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4.3 out of 5 stars
Autobiography of a Face
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138 of 142 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
I am twelve. We had to read an autobiography for an assignment in literature, I don't like that kind of book. When I emersed myself in this book I never imagined I wouldn't come up for air. I guess, as a twelve year old, I never understood the effects and after effects of camcer. I thought I would just read it and do the report. But I did not expect to finish the book and to look around a different way. I hope that I don't forget the lessons sealed inside this book, and that through my adolescents I realize beauty isn't everything. I recomend this book for older readers, it was easy to read but tough to understand. Though my understanding reached further than I ever thought possible. Read this Please!
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138 of 149 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
When this book came out, it created a sensation, not just for the raw facts of Lucy Grealy's ordeal but even more for the lyrical, insightful point of view from which it was written. Diagnosed at 9 years of age with Ewing's sarcoma, a potentially fatal cancer that attacked her lower jaw, she underwent disfiguring surgery and horrific chemo and radiation that further distorted her appearance. She used, in this memoir, her experience as a springboard from which to soar into passionate examinations of the meaning of truth, beauty, genius, love - all those biggies - and she did it with stunning success. Her background as a poet shines through each paragraph of this seminal book.

But.

Then she died, and although her death was ruled accidental, it's clear she had been on a steady downward spiral through the last couple of years of her life. Ann Patchett's stunning and conflicted story of her 20-year friendship with Grealy (Truth and Beauty) uncovers the raw underbelly of Lucy Grealy's personality, her unending quest to be special, first, best, and most of all, lovable.

To get a fuller picture, one that I feel still isn't quite complete, of this quixotic individual, it's imperative that readers of Grealy's book also read Patchett's.
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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
I read Lucy's book several years ago, all in one day. Her words, feelings, and thoughts captured my attention, as I fully understood her battle with cancer. I had Ewing's of the pelvis when I was 15, and there weren't any books that I read back then where the person lived at the end. How utterly depressing, since we are proof that you can survive cancer!
I greatly appreciated the way in which Lucy described what it felt like during chemo treatments and surgeries, because her interpretation is not glossed over. There is no real way to describe the experience except to go through it for yourself to really understand it, but Lucy's words came very close! One day, I wish to write my own novel describing my struggle with cancer as an adolescent.
I'd also love to talk with Lucy, one survivor to another, if possible.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
Do not misunderstand this review's title: it is not an apology, but rather a defense of what I consider to be one of the most hauntingly beautiful, well-crafted memoirs written in the last fifty years. Writing an autobiography of any kind is full of pitfalls--lapses into solipsism, half-truths, egoistical blathering--which Grealy avoids without even making the reader aware of her dexterity.

"Are you crazy?" critics of Grealy's work may ask. "The book is full of self-pity, lies and self-absorption." Descriptions I read of encounters with Grealy after she became a literary notable would certainly seem to validate these judgments.

But if the reader evaluates her memoir with the sensitivity and intellectual rigor it demands, the reader discovers that Grealy is not whiny at all. If she vacillates in her judgment of herself, if she shows us the tortuous feelings of self-pity and ugliness she felt, she is at the same time showing us an honest portrait of a human being in all its contradictory glory. Does the reader expect Grealy to act unaffected by the taunts of her peers, the pain of chemo treatments, the pain of knowing she will never be given what she wants? Who wouldn't have indulged the fantasies she did, considering her age and the severity of her condition? Has any one of us, her readers, undergone such unremitting physical and emotional pain?

As for Grealy's supposed detachment, we might say such distance is both necessary and understandable, considering when she wrote the memoir. Wordsworth noted that poetry, which I think applies to Grealy's work (I'm paraphrasing), is "an emotion recollected in tranquillity"--not while the passions are churning, but after the fact, when the writer can calmly assess the feelings and their significance. Grealy's memoir is written by an adult, not a child. Although she skillfully takes the reader back to her childhood emotions, she maintains an authorial distance that looks at the pain without succumbing to it over and over again. We wouldn't want her to do otherwise.

I encourage critics to read her autobiography again, or for the first time, with an open mind more sensitive to the intimate lyricism with which Grealy recounts her early life. Perhaps her subsequent struggles (with drugs, with fame) rub against us because we believe she should have led a more blameless life. But as Grealy shows us in her memoir, she was never different from anyone else: she was always just as imperfect, and beautiful, as we are.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
I expected this book to be much grittier and "confessional" in tone, so I was not prepared for the ease and grace of Lucy Grealy's writing. Grealy's recounting of her childhood battle with a serious form of cancer and the years of reconstructive surgery that follows is at once introspective and detached.

I agree with some of the other reviewers who said they felt Grealy was revealing only what she wanted the reader to know -- that there's more to this story than what she included here. While I found this intriguing and slightly frustrating, I did not feel cheated. Had Grealy lived, there might have been other books that focused on other aspects of her illness and surgeries -- how it affected her family's daily life, her relationships with her siblings (especially her twin sister), and so on. Issues that were only touched upon in this book, but which could have formed the thematic basis for several subsequent memoirs.

Though I was a little disappointed not to have been given more information about those things in this book, I realize that the title of the book is "Autobiography of a Face," and the focus of the book is exactly that -- this the story of Lucy Grealy's face, and "how it got that way." While her careful honing and focusing of the book's contents did leave me slightly dissatisfied because of all the other things I wanted to know, I can't deny what looks like a marvelous job of Grealy remaining true to her intended subject.

I must confess, I'm looking forward to reading Ann Patchett's "Truth and Beauty," which allegedly offers a look at Lucy Grealy that differs from what Grealy allows us in her own book.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
January 15, 2003
I was devastated to hear of Lucy's recent passing. I hope she knew about the many fans that she had out there in readingland. I was one of them, and I also live with a severe disfigurement and have gone through numerous plastic surgeries and grew up going to the hospital every year and being tortured by peers for being "ugly". I read the book in my mid twenties and not only did this book teach and entertain me with the tons of wisdom she passed on to the reader, Lucy enchanted me with her wonderful sense of humor and sincere sweetness that comes through in the book. Lucy's deep insight into her pain and isolation is expresesd without cold detachment or over indulgence. I think those of us who actually live with cosmetic deformities can know the enormous amount of courage it took to write her memoir. Also, the book draws the reader into her world of her pains, joys, and discoveries of life in an effortless way without pity, drama-queen tactics, or sugary sap. Lucy was a true talent: a real writer who sucessfully tackled a highly complex subject with grace in a time when so much self-serving, simple garbage is published. This book is a real life lesson about adversity written with humor and strength. It has become a regular on high school reading syllabi for obvious reasons. In a time when our culture is addicted to and obsessed with physical beauty, Lucy was the voice of reason. Physical beauty fades (Has anyone seen Farrah Fawcett lately? Need I say more?) BUT marvelous books are forever cherished and this book will endure for generations to come. The world is a dimmer place without Lucy. Rest in peace, Lucy. I never met you but I read your book and admired you so much. Actually, it was my dream to meet you one day just to tell you that I loved your book. You will be so missed and will NEVER be forgotton.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
Although it is true, according to so many who knew Lucy Grealy, that she is spoiled and selfish, it is also true that this book is excellent and thoughtfully written.

Most memoirs most likely leave certain elements out or elaborate others. In Grealy's case, though, she left behind so many people who really had bad personal experiences with her, that there are a lot of people to dispute or criticize her, as well.

That said, even if she was a selfish and spoiled woman, this book is STILL good. It is easy to see, with what she went through, why she became so needy. At such a young age, her self-image was distorted. I think anyone who went through that would be the same. I'm reminded, now, of Frances Kuffel's "Passing for Thin". The criticism of that book was similar to this. She grew up terribly obese, taunted and teased also. And, she had to relearn things the rest of us take for granted when she grew up. Grealy learned everything through such negative experiences, also.

Lucy Grealy considered herself a poet first, then a memoirist. Her memoir reads like poetry and the words she chooses to use serve her well.

After reading this, I read Ann Patchett's "Truth and Beauty" to get a fuller picture of Grealy. Ann's book talked about many things that Grealy's left out. Some reviewers seemed to find this troublesome. I don't think that is the point, however. Grealy shared with us her thoughts and feelings, not Ann Patchett's. Sometimes they were contradictory to Patchett's. Sometimes they were contradictory to her own thoughts at different times. This doesn't make them false; it makes her more real.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2001
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I think about this book nearly every day, even though I read it several years ago. It has had a profound impact on my own life. It is a real-life story about a young girl growing up with jaw bone cancer and having to live with multiple surgeries and radiation to try to rid her jaw of cancer. During and after the disfiguring surgeries and radiation, she has difficulties adjusting to society's taunts and stares, beginning with her schoolmates and continuing with adults. There is no ugly duckling to beautiful swan transformation. It's just one girl trying to survive cancer and make it through a difficult life in this beauty obsessed world. This book is a must read for anyone who feels that their appearance makes them unacceptable. It is a story of great personal fortitude coming from a little girl whose family just isn't capable of dealing with the cancer and the emotional pain she must endure.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2011
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This book is fantastic. It is dark and real, raw and breathtaking. However, the Kindle version of it is so riddled with spelling and grammatical errors I could not finish reading it. This is what happens to the publishing industry when they lay off all of their editors.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
The memoir Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy serves as a testament to her tragic yet heroic life, while illustrating her wit and charm as a writer. Within the first few pages, we learn that Lucy, at the time eighteen, has suffered from cancer throughout her childhood and as a result is deeply affected by it physically and emotionally. The preceding chapters are where Lucy's story truly begins, as we are introduced to a much younger Lucy: the pre-cancerous, tomboy, wild-child. It is difficult to read these scenes with the sadness that her already fragile world will soon become further broken by her cancer diagnosis. In this way, we automatically gain an understated respect and love for Lucy character. As Lucy journeys through the rest of her childhood, she continues to win over our hearts. By developing her parents as key characters, we learn much about Lucy through how she interacts with them. As Lucy's parents slowly distance themselves throughout her illness, Lucy learns to be independent. Lines such as, "It was the moment when I understood unequivocally: I was in this alone, (p.37)" make Lucy our hero, even at her young age. Instead of resenting her parents, Lucy's character remains honorable by choosing to explain her parent's abandonment as their own way of dealing with the cancer. Aside from Lucy's strong, independent character, Lucy's child-like curiosity and mischievousness further draws us in. For example, as Lucy and her friend Derek trick the candy striper into taking them to see the caged animals, you cannot help but admire her genuine curiosity and adventurous spirit, especially all while being hospitalized for cancer.

In addition, Lucy Grealy provides careful detail in her character and setting descriptions. The reader feels as if they were a constant bystander to her life as well as her thoughts. Through her descriptions of characters and circumstances, we learn more about her as a character. For example, Lucy describes animals by writing, "I considered animals bearers of higher truth, and I wanted to align myself with their knowledge. I thought animals were the only beings capable of understanding me" (p.5). In this way, she is able to de animals as define animals as knowledgeable and wise beings, while showing a vulnerable and lonely part to herself through craving their knowledge and company. In another example, Lucy describes her post-surgery state, "I quickly learned to judge food not by what it tasted like in eating but how it tasted when I three it back up. Vanilla pudding was best" (p.79). Here we listen to the quirky, fun voice that Lucy often weaves in; however, at the same time we are stopped and in awe of the seriousness of her condition.

While reading the book, the reader also find reoccurring themes and threads that are brilliantly and symbolically placed. Along with some of her other themes such as references to television shows, beauty and money, her fate references are mapped out throughout the book. Usually after a major trauma, Lucy drifts into a state of deep thought in which she questions Fate and its role in her life. Early in the book, Lucy writes, "Our fates were already perfectly mapped out within us, just as we once waited perfectly inside of our mothers, who themselves were held within the depths of their mothers, our great-grandmothers" (p.27). She significantly places this quote after describing the head collision in gym class, which would ultimately lead to her diagnosis of cancer. Further into the book, Lucy describes her second week of chemo, "This was dread. It wasn't some unknown black thing revealed itself to me and, knowing that I knew I couldn't escape, took its time stalking me. This was everything I ever needed to know about Fate" (p.82). She describes her treatment as something that had been doomed upon her, and adds negative connotation to her Fate in general. She implies that the future holds similar pain and suffering: pain and suffering that is out of her hands, but rather in the hands of Fate. Towards the end of the book, Lucy speaks of her Fate, "I considered the idea that what God wanted from me was to keep trying and trying and trying, no matter how difficult it was. My goal, and my intended reward, was to understand" (p.100). These powerful words suggest a maturation of Lucy's character as she learns to accept her fate having cancer and now concentrates on how she can gain from this experience and that there is a great, optimistic plan that Fate has for her.

Autobiography of a Face is a remarkable memoir that can easily be compared to Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life and Mary Karr's Liar's Club, by being an already powerful story that is enhanced by the author's masterful use of sensory details, powerful dialogue and reoccurring symbolic themes. I strongly recommend this book to readers as a book in which tragedy and sadness reign, but also as a book that illustrates quirky humor.
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