Autobiography of a Face

“I didn’t understand. Was it possible I’d looked this way for a while and was only just noticing it? A profound sense of shame consumed me.”

In Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy narrates her life, beginning at age 9, when a classmate collided with her during a dodge ball game. She subsequently had to have half of her jaw removed and then was found to have cancer. She tells of her struggles with her family and with her illness. Grealy focuses throughout her memoir on her illness, and the confusion and self-loathing that accompanied it.

Grealy clearly portrays how scarring it is to have cancer as a child—she was weak, bald, and facially disfigured—but at the same time does not continually depress the reader. From the beginning, she includes quite a bit of humor, which helps the reader grow attached to her before she starts into all the terrible surgeries and chemotherapy and societal intolerance. She gives us insight into who she is as a person, not only what she had to go through.

Grealy does not clearly outline the plot of the story. It is difficult to determine the rising action, climax, and resolution of one’s own life, but even with this in mind, the book lacked a sense of direction. Because of this, there are moments when I thought the book was done, but it continued on for several chapters. The uncertainty of purpose caused the memoir to ramble more than is usually seen in fictional works.

This is a great memoir that I would encourage anyone to read. It may seem directionless at times, but stick with it! It is worth it. Grealy not only draws sympathy, but opens up a new perspective on life for the reader, which makes one grateful for all that he/she has and more tolerant of those who face these challenges.

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