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Autobiography of a Face

About the Book

Autobiography of a Face

In her moving memoir, Autobiography of a Face, award-winning poet Lucy Grealy describes her life as a cancer victim who, at nine years old, has part of her jaw removed. From then on, she endures operation after operation in order to reconstruct her disfigured face, and suffers cruel taunts from classmates and uneasy stares from their parents.

As a child, Lucy finds refuge in the hospital where her face is considered an illness just like any other patient. It is here where she gets her first kiss from Derek, her partner in crime on Ward 10. Her life at the hospital is, ironically, where she feels the best about herself.

Although she maintains a few friends who she had before the surgery, and lives among her four siblings, Lucy is alone. She is torn between wanting to be loved for who she is and wishing desperately and secretly to have a perfect face.

Her search for truth and beauty continues throughout her life -- at college where she finds true friendships and the power of poetry, at graduate school where she discovers her long-awaited sexuality, and later in Britain where she takes advantage of their health system to begin another series of operations. Throughout it all, Grealy tells her story, the story of her face and her heart, with stunning strength and remarkable wit.

On December 18, 2002, Lucy Grealy died at the age of 39. She leaves behind this courageous picture of her life so that the rest of us might learn something about ours:


I used to think truth was eternal, that once I knew, once I saw, it would be with me forever, a constant by which everything else could be measured. I know now that this isn't so, that most truths are inherently unretainable, that we have to work hard all our lives to remember the most basic things. Society is no help. It tells us again and again that we can most be ourselves by acting and looking like someone else, only to leave our original faces behind to turn into ghosts that will inevitably resent and haunt us... [I]t suddenly occurred to me that it is no mistake when sometimes in films and literature the dead know they are dead only after being offered that most irrefutable proof: they can no longer see themselves in the mirror.

Autobiography of a Face
by Lucy Grealy

  • Publication Date: March 18, 2003
  • Paperback: 236 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060569662
  • ISBN-13: 9780060569662