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Autobiography of a Face (1994)

by Lucy Grealy

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,008667,134 (3.85)62
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."… (more)
  1. 40
    Truth and Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett (joaldo)
    joaldo: I recommend reading Autobiography of a Face first, then Truth and Beauty. Autobiography of a Face should be enjoyed for what it is, without being in some way 'tainted' by the harsher view of Lucy's friend, Ann Patchett. Reading Ann's book next will then give the reader a completely different perspective on the poet herself, her work, and on their friendship.… (more)
  2. 10
    Change Me into Zeus's Daughter: A Memoir by Barbara Robinette Moss (betsytacy)
    betsytacy: An aspect of both memoirs is how the author dealt with a facial disfigurement. In Grealy's case it was the removal of a large part of her jaw after developing cancer at age nine. In Moss's case the disfigurement was caused by malnutrition, the result of growing up in an impoverished family with an alcoholic father.… (more)
  3. 00
    Lessons in Taxidermy: A Compendium of Safety and Danger (Punk Planet Books) by Bee Lavender (kperfetto)
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» See also 62 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 67 (next | show all)
Good moving story of a disfigured girl and how she coped with it. ( )
  kslade | Dec 8, 2022 |
Lucy Grealy‘s Autobiography of a Face is on most short lists of best memoirs. Grealy became modestly famous from her story at the time it was published.

While I can’t say I didn’t enjoy reading it or sympathize with the girl who suffered so much, it didn’t affect me–reach me or touch me–the way it seems to affect most readers. I slightly pulled back from Grealy at times as I read the book. That’s kind of horrifying for me to think about because what happens to the young Grealy in the story is tragic: Grealy had cancer as a child and lost part of her jaw to the disease, growing up with a disfigured face.

As I try to look through the book to give you an idea of why I felt lukewarm, I can’t find any clues–although it seems to me that the world through her eyes didn’t seem like a world I know or a way that I connect with the world. Skimming the book, I realize I need to read it again. Maybe it was me. I want to be fair. I want to be accurate. I’ll toss it on the pile of unread books!

(When I subsequently read Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty I began to realize why I didn't "properly" respond to Grealy's book!) ( )
  LuanneCastle | Mar 5, 2022 |
It took about 20 years and reading a couple of essays about Grealy in Ann Patchett's This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage to bring me to this memoir that was such a big seller back in the '90s when I worked at Borders Books & Music. It's quite good. I think that knowing too much about the book and its now-deceased author before reading it diminished its power for me, but it was still worth reading. ( )
  CaitlinMcC | Jul 11, 2021 |
How much pain, both physical and emotional, can one person endure? I am glad I read this book. After reading Ann Patchett’s memoir of their friendship, Truth and Beauty, I was interested to read about Lucy’s experience from her point of view. I’m ashamed to admit I was surprised at how lucid and how self-aware Lucy was (or maybe Ann Patchett would be even more ashamed). After suffering through two and a half years of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, young Lucy Grealy was left to experience the twin cruelties of being grateful to be alive, but with a face terribly disfigured from the removal of half of her jaw. She felt unlovable, yet drew people to her and demanded their affection. The book covers her childhood and early adult years and does not touch on the inevitable addiction to painkillers that Patchett’s memoir focuses on. ( )
  Seafox | Jul 24, 2019 |
Lucy Grealy was a typical nine-year-old girl until a random playground accident revealed a deeper problem: she had a rare, usually fatal form of childhood cancer called Ewing's sarcoma. After surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, she is left with only part of her jaw remaining. Reconstructive surgery is disappointing; plastic surgeons promise good results, but the artificial jaws they create out of skin and bone grafts are continually reabsorbed by her body. Grealy was left with with a deep sense of being ugly and unlovable, despite her blossoming intelligence and literary sensibility. This sense of being hopelessly disfigured was reinforced by the continual rounds of teasing she endured in junior high and even in high school.

Autobiography of a Face is Grealy's memoir in essays about her difficult coming of age in the 1970s and 1980s. She does come across as self-absorbed, but her insights into truth and beauty (to borrow the title of one of the book's strongest chapters, as well as the title of the book her friend Ann Patchett wrote about Grealy) make this book still well worth reading some seventeen years after her death. ( )
  akblanchard | Jun 10, 2019 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Grealy, Lucyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ettlinger, MarionPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lameris, MarianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mac Weeney, AlanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Patchett, AnnAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sullivan, MichaelaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wargny, Daniellesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wertelet, MelodieDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my friends, whom I love
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My friend Stephen and I used to do pony parties together.
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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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