Book by: Lucy Grealy
Review by: Jessica A. Hansen
Academic Adviser
Iowa State University


Imagine walking through the supermarket and seeing a woman with only part of a face. She only has half of her jaw. Would people stare? Would people ask questions or quickly look the other way? The novel Autobiography of a Face is one woman’s story of living with only half of a face for most of her life. It is a story of courage, depression, maturity, and overcoming great obstacles.

The author, Lucy Grealy, has a way with words. One can easily picture her as a care-free nine year old wrestling with the neighborhood boys. Lucy tells a story in which the reader first sees a very healthy and active nine year-old girl. However, the normalcy of Lucy’s life soon changes when Lucy develops cancer.

The story chronicles Lucy’s time from the age of a healthy nine year-old girl, to spending most of upper elementary and middle school in the hospital, reentering middle school looking different and then facing high school peers and believing she will never be viewed as attractive. The story follows Lucy into early adulthood and discusses the lessons she learns along the way.

The main themes of this book include overcoming obstacles, dealing with insecurities, and finding ones’ way in life. Lucy faces what many would think of as horrific surgeries, taunts, and illness, yet she continued on. She goes through a point in time and wonders if she can ever get anyone to love her. The book can be depressing at times, and then joyful as Lucy goes on adventures with fellow patients at the hospital.

This story, while being a very good example of overcoming obstacles and demonstrating strength of character, is a difficult read. The story has multiple flashbacks that can make it hard to follow. It also has places where the story tends to drag on a little.

My hope was to suggest this book to a learning community for first year students. While the lessons of the book and the overall story are inspiring, I would not recommend using this book for first year students. This novel may be helpful to an advisor who teaches an upper level class due to the density and format of the book. Perhaps a leadership course or a senior seminar would be the best place to incorporate this book into the curriculum. Students can learn a lot about perseverance, the concept of self-love and self-esteem, and the standards of normalcy many people take for granted in their day-to-day lives.

Autobiography of a Face. (1994). Book by Lucy Grealy. Review by Jessica A. Hansen. New York, NY: Harper Collins. 236 pp., $14.99, (Paperback). ISBN 978-0-06-056966-2

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