Autobiography of a Face

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Autobiography of a Face
Lucy Grealy
4/5 Stars

From the Publisher: It took Lucy twenty years of living with a distorted self-image and more than thirty reconstructive procedures before she could come to terms with her appearance after childhood surgery left her jaw disfigured. As a young girl she absorbed the searing pain of peer rejection and the guilty pleasures of wanting to be special. Later she internalized the paralyzing fear of never being loved. Heroically and poignantly, she learned to define herself from the inside out.

Grealy was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma at the age of nine. From then on, her life was divided into two parts before and after cancer. After the surgery to remove half her jaw, Grealy spent over two years enduring weekly chemotherapy treatments. When she was finally declared 'healthy', Grealy returned to the sixth grade -- only to be met with scorn and cruelty from her classmates.

Her story is written clearly and concisely. She is unerringly honest about how her disease affected her family, her developing personality, and those around her. As the reader follows her through years of skin and bone grafts, she witnesses her need for acceptance from others and her gradual acceptance of herself.

I was particularly struck by Grealy's need to be 'strong.' She is constantly reminded not to cry and to never show fear. This begins Grealy's quest to be the model patient. I am amazed that this small child was able to internalize and minimize her emotions, suffering, and considerable pain. To me, she seemed like an adult soul in a child's body.

I recommend Autobiography of a Face -- it is a moving and meaningful read.


Ann said...

Glad to see someone else reading this. I read it in a writing group, but I haven't gotten around to putting up my review yet.

Have you read Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett? It is a very interesting contrast. T & B is Patchett's memoir of being Grealy's friend (if you haven't already read it). After reading it, I found that Grealy was very selective in her book, but it's hard to tell where the truth lies between the two accounts.

Erin said...

I haven't read Truth and Beauty yet, but I have ordered it from Paperback Swap.

I read an article that Suellen Grealy wrote about it -- apparently she was very disappointed in Patchett's portrayal of Lucy.

I can't wait to get it and compare the two.