Autobiography of a Face
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Autobiography of a Face

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  11,907 ratings  ·  930 reviews
From Publisher:
"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."

At age nine, Lucy Grealy was diag...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published March 18th 2003 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 1994)
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Best Memoir / Biography / Autobiography
63rd out of 2,180 books — 2,468 voters
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Memoirs by Women
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Doneen
I'm so glad I read this book after reading Ann Patchett's "Truth and Beauty," which was her take on the friendship between the 2 women. I came away from reading the first book with a very skewed idea of what the relationship was like. I didn't like Lucy Grealy at all--she came across as a total self-involved neurotic who totally wasted her life and died of an accidental heroin overdose. After reading Lucy's own account of her childhood cancer and all the hardships she endured because of her trea...more
jo
Jul 13, 2012 jo rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: cate, and anyone interested in childhood trauma
this book knocked me for six (this, i'm told, is a cricket-based metaphor. the only other cricket-related sentence i know is "the sound of willow on leather," which english expats like simon use with a quiver in their voices. this has absolutely nothing to do with this review). lucy grealy writes about her experience with a severely crippling childhood cancer which, besides putting her through years of chemo and radiation therapy with accompanying nausea, pain, terror, ill-being, baldness, and m...more
Jessica
Ehm...at the risk of sounding completely cold, I did not like this book. I spent most of the book so consumed by frustration for Lucy's mother and Lucy's own perceptions that I couldn't allow myself to feel anything else for her.

Yes, she was a cancer survivor, and she was treated horribly by her peers growing up. But sometime after the large portion of her jaw was removed, she admits that she didn't even understand that she had had cancer until many years later! She thought that people stared a...more
Jenni
Autobiography of a Face chronicles Lucy Grealy's battle with the physical and psychological effects of Ewing's sarcoma, a cancer that robbed her of much of her jaw. Grealy touches upon some of the more negative aspects of her ordeal, such as her need for attention and her tendency to blame all of her problems on her face, yet it is clear some of the tale is left untold. The writing itself is wonderful: flowing, elegant sentences filled with succinct vocabulary.

Grealy and author Ann Patchett (Be...more
Will Byrnes
At an early age, Lucy Grealy was found to have a rare form of cancer. It would define the rest of her life. A third of her jawbone was removed to try to stem the spread of this cancer. She endured two and a half years of chemotherapy and many subsequent years of radiation treatments. In addition, she had literally dozens of surgeries attempting to restore her face. Each time her body would eventually absorb transplanted material and sag back in on itself. Consider the garden-variety cruelty of m...more
Caitlin Constantine
Several months ago, the mug shot of a criminal suspect landed in my work inbox. When I opened the email, I was so shocked that I gasped out loud, then giggled nervously as I quickly closed it. The young man was horribly disfigured, to the point that his face looked like the creation of a special effects artist in a horror movie. I saw his face in my mind for days afterward, sometimes seeing it in odd shadows in half-light rooms, and each time I was revolted. My very visceral horror was compounde...more
Sandra
I am interested in writing memoir or at least creative non-fiction so I was excited to read this book. Certainly autobiography is self-centered by nature and one should not be surprised to find the subject's conciousness to take center stage. Grealy somehow manages to almost completely immerse us in her thoughts and feelings for the eighteen years between her diagnosis with Ewing's sarcoma and the writing of the book. Her honesty is unflinching and totally politically incorrect at times. There a...more
Jen
Wow! A truly touching story filled with so many little life lessons. A story that makes me cringe a little with guilt when I realize how good I have it yet how often I sometimes take my life for granted, my health for granted, my friends and family for granted... Ms. Grealy opened my eyes up to another world where she had every right to let life beat her down yet she continued to find strength and confidence and continued to somehow pull herself back up, hold her head high and continue to face t...more
Alexis
Lucy Grealy’s memoir AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FACE was met with wide critical and popular acclaim when published. The book is overrated in my opinion, and it provides a good test case for Vivian Gornick’s concepts of the “situation” and the “story.” “Every work of literature has both a situation and a story,” Gornick writes in her book THE SITUATION AND THE STORY. “The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the i...more
Stephanie
TIP: To be read AFTER Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty. This autobiography is very engaging and well written. The author tells of her experience with cancer, but she states that while she spent only a certain amount of her youth being treated for cancer, she spent the rest of her life being treated for looking different than everyone else. This is an exploration into a very interesting and intense individual far more than it is a documentary about the affects of cancer. It is rich in language and...more
Ciara
possibly i made a big mistake by reading this & then immediately reading truth & beauty by ann pratchett (as well as some of suellen grealy's choice comments about how ann pratchett never should have written truth & beauty). my immediate thoughts on this book were something along the lines of, "not bad. she really touches a nerve about the power & perception of beauty in women. she seems to have some demons, but has to be incredibly strong to go through everything she has gone th...more
sydney
Grealy's memoir describes her battle with bone cancer in adolescence, the removal of half her jaw, her two-and-a-half years of radiation/chemo treatments, the string of surgeries to "fix" her face that lasted into her adulthood as each successive reconstruction was absorbed back into her body, and her attempts to be a model patient and keep her family happy by never showing emotion during the ordeal. It's a beautiful, well-written book exploring a young girl's struggle to reconcile her "ugly" ap...more
Sarah
This book says a lot about how our society reacts to "ugliness." It is about a woman who had cancer as a young girl. She beat it, but was left without a jaw on one side of her face.

She says, "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 mi...more
Crystal
The candor with which Grealy writes is what makes this book so fascinating. As I've read before in some book of writing instruction, I would suspect that this candor can only come with the passing of time. I stumbled on this book several years ago and wanted to read it because I am interested in the memoir genre. Then I read some negative press about Grealy surrounding Ann Patchett’s book, Truth and Beauty. I, then, decided that I didn’t want to read the book. I’m sorry I waited so long. I feel...more
Peter
It would be pretty hard to find real fault with a book this gorgeous and unflinching. In her afterward, Ann Patchett recommends reading it a second time "just for the sentences." And this is perhaps what ultimately lifts it above other memoirs on similar subjects. It's not just a horror story, or a story about determination and the human spirit. It is a book that turns the unthinkable into lucid startling prose.

Physical pain can be a hard subject to write about, but Grealy re-defines it again an...more
Patty
About 20 years ago, I read an essay by Grealy in a book about women and their bodies. (I can't figure out what that book was titled.) I was so impressed by her story that when Grealy's memoir was published, I read it immediately. I could not imagine being so honest about one's body and self image. I found Grealy's story fascinating and very forthright.
Then, I encountered Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett. This is the story of her friendship with Grealy. It wasn't until I picked up Patchett's memo...more
Wendy
I'm not sure I found this quite as revelatory as I hoped I would. The "medical memoir" aspect of it was interesting and often appropriately horrifying. The more personal aspects - the parts about what it's like to walk around the world with a very conspicuous trace of illness and surgeries - were often compelling for me to consider more than for me to read Grealy discuss.

I'm not 100% sure that Grealy was a strong enough writer to tell her important and interesting story as well as it might have...more
Kristine (fezabel)
As seen in Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, Lucy Grealy is a selfish spoiled girl. Her main concern in this book is not how to live with the disfigurement from cancer, but how to make people do things to make her happy. She learns to work the system to get what she wants. There's no great introspection in her story. She has no startling insights about life. She just goes along from surgery to surgery begging for attention and love while not giving anything back to others. The most interesting...more
Carla
an extremely sad but interesting memoir. having read truth and beauty by ann pratchett, a memoir about the friendship between these two authors, i was able to see the other side of the relationship. its nice when you can see the whole picture instead of just one person's experience. although lucy didn't get into the friendship as much since it was her memoir about her life up to a certain point, it did give me insight into her illness and its effect on her personality and emotional problems. if...more
Kate Garroway
A beautifully written memoir about the late Grealy's struggle with childhood cancer leading to many, many reconstructive surgeries over 20 years. She tells her story with wit and perspective which seems improbable given what she went through. The treatments sound pretty primative now.

I recommend resisting the urge to follow this up with Ann Patchett's about Grealy after she died. Patchett reveals a lot about Grealy and I wished I could have un-read these details and returned to the stronger, sw...more
Kristen
I have no criticisms to offer. Beautiful on a sentence level. Insightful. Very often funny. I like how Grealy takes an ordinary kid -- herself -- and shows the rationalizations and mental gymnastics she goes through to accept herself after being rendered physically non-beautiful by disease. Shelve this next to The Fault in Our Stars as a book about what it's really like to be a kid whose life is stamped by illness.
Alexandra
Such a tragic story! I still cringe from hearing, decades ago, a male co-worker call a not-particularly attractive work colleague a "two-bagger". He explained that she was so ugly that you would need to put two bags over her head before you could sleep with her, in case one bag fell off. So the author's suffering from the cruel remarks made by cruel men about her deformity is unimaginable to me. And that's on top of her physical suffering from numerous operations throughout her life, many of the...more
Katherine
Lucy Grealy never thought that she was handicapped as she went through the traumatic and countless surgeries that claimed nearly a third of her jaw due to Ewing sarcoma. It wasn’t until she had to return to school and saw the furtive stares and caught the quick glances from teachers, parents, and students that she realized she was different. As time went by, Lucy’s identity became directly tied into her appearance.
In her memoir, Autobiography of a Face, Grealy traces the history of her illness...more
Becky
Mar 04, 2008 Becky rated it 3 of 5 stars Recommends it for: people who like memoirs
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 fo...more
Juliana
Moving, engaging, darkly troubling, and inspiring - made me want to appreciate the simple joys of life [3.5 stars:]

This was a good book, moving and engaging. Though you would think that it was the battle with cancer itself which would prove troublesome, perhaps because of the young age at which she underwent this struggle, we see that it the resulting effects are what truly impacted Grealy's life.

Her book is insightful even for those who have not had to undergo the extraordinary struggles that...more
John Sundman
Nov 20, 2010 John Sundman rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: People interested in the deepest questions of what it means to be human.
Recommended to John by: Lucy Grealy (I read the magazine article on which the book is based).
I've wanted to read this book since reading the magazine article that precipitated it in 1994. Even if the book had sucked I probably would have given it three stars for the title alone. "Autobiography of a Face". It gives me gooseflesh.

Now that I've finally read it, I can report that book lives up to its title. Five stars.

William Carlos Williams concluded his introduction to Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" saying something like, "Ladies and gentlemen, lift your petticoats. You're about to walk t...more
Chris
My son read an excerpt of this book in his 7th grade English class and wanted to read it. So I decided to read it as well. Living in a family were nothing of significance was discussed and feelings were stuffed and silenced, Lucy would have had a lot to overcome even if she didn't have cancer as a youngster. Her early years and her story were compelling. Chapters 7-10 felt dull and repetitive. It will be interesting to see if my 7th grader can hang with the book when he gets to that part. I have...more
ALPHAreader
A friend of mine recently asked me for a reading recommendation, something outside of their usual crime/fantasy/romance genre. The first book that came to mind was Lucy Grealy’s ‘Autobiography of a Face’. It is a biography/memoir, and one of the most powerful books I have ever read. I was so insistent in my recommendation to this friend that I decided to go back and re-read the book myself. And it’s just as moving and horrifyingly powerful as I remembered.

‘Autobiography of a Face’ was first pub...more
Jennifer
I just finished reading Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy. I originally got this book because I started out the year reading Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty: A Friendship, which is about Ann's friendship with Lucy. Lucy is a quite a colorful and tragic character in the book and I wanted to know more about her. I was also very curious to see what Lucy looked like because the subject of this book is her face, which was disfigured as a result of childhood cancer.

Her experiences with a disfigur...more
Cinthia Ritchie
I love this book, love the writing, which is simple yet lyrical. Mostly, I love Grealy's voice, which never slides into melodrama or pity. It is firm and almost matter-of-face, yet always beautiful. Which is an odd juxtaposition, since beauty or the identity one finds through beauty, is the underlying theme. And identity is what Grealy strives for and fights against and ultimately triumphs over.
Or does she?
Grealy was diagnosed at age 9 with a rare and potentially terminal form of cancer, resulti...more
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The Rory Gilmore ...: Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy 5 79 Nov 26, 2012 06:25AM  
Aiossa's 12/13 Se...: Yvette #3 Memoir 1 2 Nov 08, 2012 09:59PM  
Lucy Grealy has been dead for a decade. She was a great talent. 2 21 Jul 08, 2012 07:51PM  
Cafe Libri: "Autobiography of a Face" by Lucy Grealy 1 6 Jan 25, 2012 02:18PM  
Lucy Grealy 5 63 Oct 28, 2011 07:56AM  
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Lucinda Margaret Grealy was a poet and memoirist who wrote Autobiography of a Face in 1994. This critically acclaimed book describes her childhood and early adolescence experience with cancer of the jaw, which left her with some facial disfigurement. In a 1994 interview with Charlie Rose conducted right before she rose to the height of her fame, Lucy states that she considers her book to be primar...more
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