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Autobiography of a Face Paperback – July 20, 1995

4.3 out of 5 stars 247 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 pleasure 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

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 223 pages
  • Publisher: HarpPeren; English Language edition (July 20, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006097673X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060976736
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (247 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #468,736 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on November 6, 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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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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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.


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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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.
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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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