Thursday, December 17, 2015

O.o.O.C.: "Autobiography of a Face" by Lucy Grealy

Out of Orbit Critiques are the reviews on books that stray outside my usual genres. Autobiography of a Face is pretty self-explanatory- it's an autobiography.

If you're like me, you look in the mirror a couple times a day to make sure you look half decent, especially when going out somewhere public. You may notice a few things 'wrong' with your face- a new pimple, dark shadows under your eyes, frown lines, crow's feet, but overall you feel content to go out and about without much thought (and without many people batting an eyelash about your appearance). Imagine for a second if that wasn't the case. If you went out and people stared at you because there was something very 'off' about your appearance. Imagine these appraisals happening in your formative years, when you're young enough to be hurt by it. That is the basis behind Autobiography of a Face.

As a preteen, I was intensely self-conscious about my appearance. Something about being the tallest chubby girl in the class (taller even than the boys) made me feel unfeminine, and therefore, unattractive. Add into that the fact that I was painfully shy at that point in my life towards anyone I didn't know, and that assumption was confirmed by my own negativity. But here's the thing- I wasn't unattractive, I just felt like it, and when the only seemingly positive traits for girls on television was beauty and grace (neither of which I felt I had), I developed an extremely negative self image. I tell you this because if you haven't grown up feeling 'ugly' you do miss out on some of the finer points of this memoir. If you take a look at the latest tabloids, you'll know appearances are one of modern society's obsessions, and if you don't feel you appear normal (normal being a euphemism for pretty) growing up, you miss out on the many more important things in life during that time.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'"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.'

Normally with memoirs I feel a certain amount of detachment from the life of the writer- even if the book is written well, they've rarely experienced the same type of childhood/teenagehood I had hanging out in waiting rooms to be poked and prodded by doctors. Part of what attracted me to this book was that since the author had fought cancer, she'd have some of the same experiences as I did, albeit in a much more severe manner. I was right to suspect it would affect me more on that count, as Lucy had some nasty procedures and not the nicest doctors either. I can only imagine how I would feel in her shoes, but her writing does bring you there to a certain extent. Her home life was much more stable, but similar- her father couldn't bear to stay in hospitals with her much, while her mother was more stalwart in that regard. In short, I found her highly relatable, but I have things in common with her (not limited to her oldest brother's name).

I'm desperately trying not to put spoilers in this review, but at the same time, trust me when I say this book is one I wish I'd read as a teenager. There is too much emphasis on appearances in the world, even just in books. This autobiography review is difficult to write since it covers such a great topic that I could ramble on for days about, and yet at the same time chronicles the life of a girl who suffers judgement due to societal expectations of what beauty and normalcy are. It's safe to say this is one of those books that will linger with me instead of being forgotten.

A favorite quote:

I treated despair in terms of hierarchy: if there was a more important pain in the world, it meant my own was negated. I thought I simply had to accept the fact that I was ugly, and that to feel despair about it was simply wrong.
        ~Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, page 126 Kindle edition

Autobiography of a Face is simply the best autobiography I'll read this year. When I picked it up, I thought it would be good, but it turned out exceptional- something which I wasn't quite expecting. If you enjoy autobiographies that have a lot of food for thought and may not end in a storybook manner, I highly recommend Autobiography of a Face for your next read.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars for an autobiography that exceeds expectations!

Content: Ages 16+ for mentions of sexual activity, descriptions of medical procedures (not for those who dislike that sort of thing), and abuse.

Page Count: 256 pages


  1. This sounds like an extraordinary memoir. While I don't think I can relate to the author in everything, I do think I would be able to in some ways. Like you, I think I probably could have benefited from this when I was a teen. I will have to see about getting a copy--not just for myself, but maybe for my daughter when she's much older.

    1. I think it would be hard not to relate to the author, as long as you've doubted your appearance, but I do admit having a similar past made me more committed to reading this book than I would normally be. It's rare that I read a memoir non-stop, but this was one of those I was compelled to read on, despite some difficult moments.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Wendy!
      ~Litha Nelle

  2. This was a wonderful memoir. I read it several years ago so I was happy to come across your post and read about it again. Happy New Year

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it as well! It's certainly one that'll be sticking with me as my most enjoyed memoir of 2015.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Diane! Happy 2016 to you as well!
      ~Litha Nelle


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