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Autobiography of a Face

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  17,596 Ratings  ·  1,215 Reviews
This powerful memoir is about the premium we put on beauty and on a woman's face in particular. It took Lucy Grealy 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 cancer and surgery that left her jaw disfigured. As a young girl, she absorbed the searing pai ...more
Hardcover, 223 pages
Published December 31st 1994 by Houghton Mifflin (first published January 1st 1994)
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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
Oct 28, 2015 Eve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2015
I first learned about Lucy Grealy through Ann Patchett’s memoir Truth and Beauty, a memoir dedicated to her complex friendship with Grealy. I almost wish I hadn’t read it first; in that case, I wouldn’t have approached this book with deep sadness for what the future was to bring for Grealy.

Grealy is a poet. Each sentence was crafted with so much love, meaning, and feeling. Throughout the book, she takes the reader into her confidence while relating her complicated relationship with herself, and
Jun 05, 2014 Doneen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 two 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 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 treatmen ...more
Cathrine ☯
There is much said about this memoir from many POVs and my thoughts about it are complicated. As one reviewer pointed out the title says Autobiography of a Face and that’s what it is. Hoping to find a more holistic view to other aspects of life in the aftermath of her childhood experience left me disappointed. She spends the majority of this book in those early years and quickly wraps it up after college. Like others I wondered how she could so clearly recall the details and memories from suc
Jul 13, 2012 jo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 09, 2009 Jessica rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition 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
Feb 04, 2014 Jenni rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Aug 09, 2015 Elyse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A friend sent me a recommendation at this book a few minutes ago.
I read it when it first came out.
I also highly recommend it

True story - sad- beautiful.
One of those stories one never forgets!

Bill Kupersmith
Lucy Grealy was a poet, essayist, and autobiographer. She was born in Dublin in 1963 and her family immigrated to Spring Valley, New York, when she was four years old. Her father worked in television. Lucy was a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and received an MFA degree from the University of Iowa Creative Writing Program (the “Writer’s Workshop”).
The crucial experience in Lucy’s life happened at age nine, when as a result of a playground accident to her jaw, she was diagnosed with Ewing’s
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
Nov 11, 2012 Alexis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 24, 2007 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 17, 2016 Darlene rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
While reading this book, I was reminded of something my daughter used to say when she was little and she came to me after one of her brothers or a friend hurt her feelings. She would say.. "Mommy, my heart hurts." Well, that sentence seems the perfect way to describe my feelings about this book.

I discovered 'Autobiography of a Face' by Lucy Grealy at a used book store. The photo on the cover immediately caught my eye… it was startling! The photo caught me, and the story pulled me in and ultimate
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
Sep 02, 2007 Sandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 23, 2009 Jen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs-read
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
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
Fahed Haji
Mar 05, 2016 Fahed Haji rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First of all, I would like to acknowledge that Lucy Grealy was a brave, tough, and an inspirational woman. Not only in the sense of her enduring pain, loneliness and hurtful remarks of other people, but also in the sense that she wrote this book in order to show the world that she has an amazing ability and talent. This ability and talent was surely presented through her writing.

The way she wrote this book is absolutely extraordinary. She encapsulated me through her use of words, images, and me
I read Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty a while back and was intrigued by Greely’s story. I was excited to read Greely’s version (especially since there was such controversy between her family and Patchett). As a former student of physical attractiveness (my MA dealt with the mechanics and development of measuring facial physical attractiveness), I was curious to read about Greely’s experience. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

I think part of my disappointment in this book was due to my knowledg
Aug 10, 2014 Dianne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Exquisite memoir by poet and novelist Lucy Grealy. Diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma at aged nine, Lucy had half of her jawbone removed and spent the next three years undergoing constant radiation and chemotheraphy treatments. The brutal toll that the damage and subsequent reconstructive surgeries took on her face and psyche is the focus of the book, which covers the time between her diagnosis and early adulthood.

Grealy is an intelligent and gifted writer and her thoughtful examination of her disfi
Feb 12, 2010 Wendy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jul 02, 2007 sydney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 05, 2007 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 05, 2014 Crystal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
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
Dec 04, 2015 Liralen rated it really liked it
Grealy was nine when she was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma—bone cancer. This was the early 70s, though, and understanding of how to address illness was different; for starters, Grealy didn't understand that that her illness was cancer. Even so, cancer led to surgery and radiation and chemo, and those in turn meant nausea and pain and hair loss and disfigurement.

This is all the more striking in the context of Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett's memoir of her friendship with Grealy. Because: Grealy,
Nov 29, 2010 Peter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 19, 2007 Carla rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 23, 2007 Kate Garroway rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sue Bridehead (A Pseudonym)
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.
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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
More about Lucy Grealy...

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“Sometimes the briefest moments capture us, force us to take them in, and demand that we live the rest of our lives in reference to them.” 44 likes
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