Autobiography of a face

Lucy Grealy

Book - 2003

At age nine, Lucy Grealy was diagnosed with a potentially terminal cancer. When she returned to school with a third of her jaw removed, she faced the cruel taunts of classmates. In this strikingly candid memoir, Grealy tells her story of great suffering and remarkable strength without sentimentality and with considerable wit. Vividly portraying the pain of peer rejection and the guilty pleasures of wanting to be special, Grealy captures with unique insight what it is like as a child and young adult to be torn between two warring impulses: to feel that more than anything else we want to be loved for who we are, while wishing desperately and secretly to be perfect. "I spent five years of my life being treated for cancer, but since then I...'ve spent fifteen years being treated for nothing other than looking different from everyone else. It was the pain from that, from feeling ugly, that I always viewed as the great tragedy of my life. The fact that I had cancer seemed minor in comparison."

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BIOGRAPHY/Grealy, Lucy
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Location Call Number   Status
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New York : Perennial 2003, c1994.
Main Author
Lucy Grealy (-)
1st Perennial ed
Item Description
"With an afterword by Ann Patchett"--Cover.
Physical Description
236 p. ; 21 cm
  • Luck
  • Petting zoo
  • The Tao of laugh-in
  • Fear itself
  • Life on earth
  • Door number two
  • Masks
  • Truth and beauty
  • World of unknowing
  • The habits of self-consciousness
  • Cool
  • Mirrors.
Review by Booklist Review

Grealy's is a book you want to hand to people saying only, "Read it." Why? Because she has triumphed over something we all fear, the disfigurement of her face. And she writes about her experience with dignity, precision, and wisdom. At age nine, Grealy developed Ewing's sarcoma, a virulent form of cancer with only a five percent survival rate. Stoic, bright, imaginative, and resourceful, Grealy endured almost three years of chemotherapy and, ultimately, nearly 30 operations, many of which were attempts to reconstruct the missing half of her jaw. She not only suffered pain, confinement, fear, and loneliness; she also endured the humiliation of looking strange and alarming and of being perceived as ugly and therefore subjected to the laserlike cruelty of children and the cloddish embarrassment of adults. Given her predicament, those consequences were inevitable. What wasn't inevitable was the strength of Grealy's sense of self and the incredible richness of her inner life. As she describes her heroic efforts to transform her misfortune into a source of revelations about the beauty and mystery of life, we are humbled by her valor and the resiliency of her imagination. It's no surprise Grealy is a tremendously powerful writer: she saved her own life by telling herself stories to live by. Now she'll change our lives by sharing them. ~--Donna Seaman

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Diagnosed at age nine with Ewing's sarcoma, a cancer that severely disfigured her face, Grealy lost half her jaw, recovered after two and half years of chemotherapy and radiation, then underwent plastic surgery over the next 20 years to reconstruct her jaw. This harrowing, lyrical autobiographical memoir, which grew out of an award-winning article published in Harper's in 1993, is a striking meditation on the distorting effects of our culture's preoccupation with physical beauty. Extremely self-conscious and shy, Grealy endured insults and ostracism as a teenager in Spring Valley, N.Y. At Sarah Lawrence College in the mid-1980s, she discovered poetry as a vehicle for her pent-up emotions. During graduate school at the University of Iowa, she had a series of unsatisfying sexual affairs, hoping to prove she was lovable. No longer eligible for medical coverage, she moved to London to take advantage of Britain's socialized medicine, and underwent a 13-hour operation in Scotland. Grealy now lives in New York City. Her discovery that true beauty lies within makes this a wise and healing book. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

When Grealy was nine years old, a toothache led to a visit to the dentist, several misdiagnoses, and eventually surgery that removed most of the right side of her jaw. What she had was Ewing Sarcoma, a deadly form of cancer. In this expansion of her award-winning Harper's essay, "Mirrorings," Grealy sensitively recounts the chemotherapy she endured and the more than 30 operations she underwent in an effort to reconstruct her jaw. For Grealy, the tragedy of her situation was not the cancer but the pain of feeling ugly. As a child, she suffered the cruel taunts of classmates and insensitive stares of adults (Halloween was a great liberator with its concealing masks); as a young woman, fearing that no one would love her, she pinned her hopes on the surgeries that would magically fix her disfigured face and her life. Grealy writes with a poet's lyric grace, but her account of her endless quest for beauty at times becomes repetitious; the most moving part of her memoir comes in her depiction of chemotherapy's agonies and the unintentional cruelty of parents telling their suffering child not to cry. For all collections.-Wilda Williams, ``Library Journal'' (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A gracefully written account of one woman's physical and spiritual struggle to surmount childhood cancer, permanent disfigurement, and, ultimately, ``the deep bottomless grief...called ugliness.'' After surviving relentless medical horrors--the removal at age nine of half her jaw due to Ewing Sarcoma, two and a half years of chemotherapy, and two years of reconstructive surgery--Grealy's true battle begins when she looks in the mirror and finds herself trapped behind a face, in a ``self'' that she hates, and for which her peers cruelly punish her. Once a buoyant, sociable tomboy, Grealy, through her suffering, becomes isolated--finding human comfort mainly among the patients she meets in her numerous hospital stays. She writes, ``I felt as if my illness were a blanket the world had thrown over me.... And somehow I transformed that blanket into a tent, beneath which I almost happily set up camp.'' Still a young girl, she must cope not only with her own fear but with the awkwardly expressed fears of her parents as well. Eventually, as she grows up, she finds solace and inspiration in the company of horses and other animals, and as a young adult, she cultivates an enriching inner life through reading, and later writing. Now an award-winning poet and essayist (a short version of her tale originally appeared in Harper's and received a National Magazine Award), Grealy's tale ends not with magical deliverance, but with hard-won self-acceptance. Nearly two decades and 30 surgical procedures later, Grealy finally stops waiting for her life to begin and comes to terms with her face--her ``self.'' An unsentimental, honest, unflinching look at a single visage reflected (or distorted) in an unforgiving cultural mirror. A strong debut.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.