Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy - Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge

Autobiography of a Face


"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 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.


Autobiography of a Face was an interesting read. I can't imagine what Lucy went through when she was a child. At first I was enjoying reading the story, but as Lucy got older and the story went on I started enjoying it less and less. Probably because it was more and more about Lucy hating herself which I didn't really connect with through the writing.

At age 9 Lucy was diagnosed with cancer. She had to have a surgery to remove part of her jaw followed by two and a half years of chemo and radiation therapy. Man all the medical things, the chemo, everything sounded terrible. I know I have watched shows where people have cancer and things like that, but none of them describe chemo the way Lucy did. It is like they all try to put on a brave face, where this book tells it like it is. It must be so hard to watch someone go through something like that, or to be the one who is in that situation. Really I felt bad for her. She is so young and has to go through so much. That and her family doesn't seem to be very supportive. After her first chemo appointment the mom is disappointed in Lucy for crying. I was just like geez, this family needs to get it together. If there is anyone that could use a supportive hug, or really just support, it is Lucy. It almost seems like from Lucy's point of view her family was upset with her for being sick. I just can't imagine going through something like this at this age and not having the loving support of my parents. That would make it so much worse and sure doesn't help with the emotional scars this leaves Lucy with.

"I felt my mother was disappointed in me. I hadn't gone straight to bed last time - why was I doing it this time?...

'I know it's hard, but you can't get depressed by it. Don't give in to it. You were not so bad last time, so make sure that what you're feeling isn't just in your head.'"

That is some supportive parenting. It just makes me feel that much more for Lucy and what she went through. Really she says that there were issues at home, but as to what and how bad it was at home I am not sure. We never really get to see that so it is hard to understand why everyone was the way they were, or what exactly she went through at home.

I will say the parts with the medical procedures and her time in the hospitals were the best parts of the book. I really felt like I understood and could sympathize with her. Also I had never heard of this pedestal procedure. That sounds kind of terrifying and I don't question her not wanting anything to do with it. Really this book made me think more about what people with cancer and other illnesses go through. I have been lucky in my life so far to not have first hand knowledge of this, but my heart does go out to those who do. It must be incredibly difficult.

The rest of the book is more Lucy's struggle with her own self worth and image. She thinks she is ugly and that no one will ever love her. I can imagine that the kids in school were horrible to her, but I never really felt like I got to see that. You get bits and pieces, but it doesn't seem as bad as I imagine it really was. Like it wasn't a cake walk, but I didn't really get all the emotions involved like I had hoped. That was the issue by the end. It starts to get more and more of Lucy just going on about how she is ugly, how her face is hideous, how if she had a perfect face everything would be fine (only it isn't when she is 'normal') and I didn't really connect with the emotions that were told. I didn't really feel what she was feeling and going through when it was just her telling us the emotions. I still did feel for her as I kept imagining what it would have been like. How people would have treated her and such, but the writing itself didn't connect me to it as much as I would have liked.

"No matter how philosophical my ideals, I boiled every equation down to these simple terms: was I lovable or was I ugly?"

Since a good chunk of the book is her struggling with her self worth and self esteem and since I wasn't as connected to the emotional part as I had hoped it just started to get to be a bit much. Really I kept reading just waiting to get to the end, which was a bit rushed I think. **slight spoilers I suppose** It was like it was trying to have a sort of happy ending, sort of uplifting, but I didn't really buy it. For the entire book you read how Lucy is not happy with her face, then suddenly she kind of is okay with how she looks because she suddenly has a revelation. Sure. As much as I had really hoped that we could see Lucy actually become okay with herself, grow, be happy even, I didn't believe that she ever really was. I wanted her to be able to get to a good place after all that she had been through, but it just was not to be. Then I looked up her to see what happened after the end of the book since it just kind of ends. Unfortunately she died of a heroine overdose at age 39. Very sad, but based on the book and how much she doesn't think she is lovable because of how ugly she is, not that surprising. I had really hoped that something good would have come of all of this, that she had found her peace and happiness, and maybe now she has. A really sad story with a sad ending. I just wish the emotional parts would have engaged me a bit more. Thinking about the story, what happens, even now is so sad. I just wish the writing would have always backed that up for me.

Rating: ★ ★ ★

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