It describes her childhood struggles with jaw cancer and the resulting disfigurement that she considers the true tragedy of her life. As she works the party, we see how acutely aware Grealy is of the partygoers curious and disturbed gazes at her disfigured jaw, which she attempts to hide behind her long hair. Even from the brief anecdote, we can see clearly how ashamed Grealy is at her own disfigurement. Fourth-grade Lucy sustains a minor injury while playing dodgeball in school. This injury leads her to the dentist who is the first to realize something more may be wrong. After a series of doctors visits and misdiagnoses, she is diagnosed with Ewings sarcoma, a deadly form of cancer.
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Start your review of Autobiography of a Face Write a review Shelves: biography 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 At an early age, Lucy Grealy was found to have a rare form of cancer. Consider the garden-variety cruelty of middle-schoolers. Then add to it a severe facial disfigurement. The taunting and insults were constant. High school offered minimal relief. One benefit to Grealy of her many hospitalizations was that she got to skip so much school-time, so much taunting-time.
She offers a blow-by-blow recounting of her medical trials, accompanied by the emotional turmoil that inevitably resulted. How does one cope with a world that defines beauty as value when one is clearly damaged? Eventually, Grealy decided that she would become deep. If she could not succeed at being beautiful, facially, she would become as smart as she could. In an interview she said that beauty is a label. What people want is to be seen as graceful, to be accepted, to be loved, to be appreciated.
Beauty is a label that people lay across things that we want. The same applies to wealth, which, per se, is meaningless, but stands in for other things, desirability, power, freedom. This is a book about identity.
Are you your face? Do you see yourself through the eyes of the world or through your own? Can you accept who you are, disfigurements and all? She expresses appreciation for the fact that while she has had barriers to contend with, in many ways she was blessed, with a roof over her head, plenty to eat, clothing to wear, and sees how many people, people with perfectly normal faces, lack those basics.
The book is memorable and moving, offering an inside look at the girl, then woman, behind the face, sometimes behind the mask. There is a bit of distance here between the author and her emotions, but with such an intense, long-lasting trauma, a bit of distance may have been the only way that Grealy could have written her tale. It may not rank with great memoirs, but is an interesting, thoughtful and engaging one.
PS - I learned, after reading Autobiography, that Grealy, who had become a successful poet and writer, had suffered an addiction to heroine following her last reconstructive surgery and died of an overdose at age Patchett wrote about their friendship in Truth and Beauty: A Friendship.
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