25 Women to Read Before You Die

Special Offers see all

Enter to WIN a $100 Credit

Subscribe to PowellsBooks.news
for a chance to win.
Privacy Policy

Visit our stores

    Recently Viewed clear list

    Q&A | August 26, 2015

    Christopher Moore: IMG Powell’s Q&A: Christopher Moore

    Describe your latest book. Secondhand Souls is the sequel to my bestselling novel A Dirty Job, which was about a single dad in San Francisco who... Continue »
    1. $18.89 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

      Secondhand Souls

      Christopher Moore 9780061779787

Qualifying orders ship free.
List price: $14.99
Used Trade Paper
Ships in 1 to 3 days
Add to Wishlist
Qty Store Section
2 Burnside Health and Medicine- Cancer
3 Burnside Literature- A to Z
2 Hawthorne Health and Medicine- Cancer

Autobiography of a Face


Autobiography of a Face Cover




Chapter One


I was knocked into the present, the unmistakable now, by Joni Friedman's head as it collided with the right side of my jaw. Up until that moment my body had been running around within the confines of a circle of fourth-grade children gathered for a game of dodge ball, but my mind had been elsewhere. For the most part I was an abysmal athlete, and I was deeply embarrassed whenever I failed to jump bravely and deftly into a whirring jumprope, ever threatening to sting if I miscrossed its invisible boundaries, like some science-fiction force field. Or worse, when I was the weak link yet again in the school relay race. How could one doubt that the order in which one was picked for the softball team was anything but concurrent with the order in which Life would be handing out favors?

Not that I considered myself a weak or easily frightened person; in more casual games I excelled, especially at wrestling (I could beat every boy but one on my street), playing war (a known sneak, I was always called upon to be the scout), and in taking dares (I would do just about anything, no matter how ludicrous or dangerous, though I drew the line at eating invertebrates and amphibians). I was accorded a certain amount of respect in my neighborhood, not only because I once jumped out of a secondstory window, but also because I would kiss an old and particularly smelly neighborhood dog on the lips whenever asked. I was a tomboy par excellence.

But when games turned official under the auspices of the Fleetwood Elementary Phys-Ed Department, everything changed. The minutea whistle appeared and boundaries were called, I transformed into a spaz. It all seemed so unfair: I knew in my heart I had great potential, star potential even, but my knowing didn't translate into hitting the ball that was coming my way. I resigned myself early on, even though I knew I could outread, outspell, and outtest the strongest kid in the classroom. And when I was picked practically last for crazy kickball or crab relays, I defeatedly assumed a certain lackadaisical attitude, which partially accounts for my inattention on the day my jaw collided with Joni Friedman's head.

Maybe I was wondering whether Colleen's superiority at dodge ball would be compromised by her all-consuming crush on David Cassidy, or maybe some other social dilemma of prepubescence ruled that days game. I do know that the ball I was going for was mine. I hadn't even bothered to call it, it was so obvious, and though it was also obvious that Joni was going to try to steal it away from me, I stood my ground. The whistle to stop playing began to blow just as the ball came toward us, toward me. I leaned forward and Joni lunged sideways, and suddenly all thoughts about Colleen's social status or Joni's ethics were suddenly and sharply knocked out of me.

I felt the force of our collision in every one of my atoms as I sat, calm and lucid though slightly dazed, on the asphalt. Everyone was running to get on line. I assume Joni asked me how I was, but all I remember is sitting there among the blurred and running legs, rubbing the right side of my jaw, fascinated by how much pain I was in and by how strangely peaceful I felt. It wasn't the sensation of things happening in slow motion, which I had experienced during other minor accidents; it was as if time had mysteriously but logically shifted onto another plane. I felt as if I could speculate and theorize about a thousand different beautiful truths all in the time it would take my lips to form a single word. In retrospect, I think it's possible I had a concussion.

My jaw throbbed. Rubbing it with my hand seemed to have no good or bad effect: the pain was deep and untouchable. Because the pain was genuinely unanticipated, there was no residue of anxiety to alter my experience of it. Anxiety and anticipation, I was to learn, are the essential ingredients in suffering from pain, as opposed to feeling pain pure and simple. This alien ache was probably my first and last experience of unadulterated pain, which perplexed me more than it hurt me.

"Are you all right, dear?"

Interrupted in my twilight, I looked up to see Mrs. Minkin, who was on playground duty that afternoon. She fell into the category of "scary" adults, and from there into the subcategory of adults "with cooties." In her plaid wool skirts and thick makeup, luridly ugly to schoolchildren's eyes, Mrs. Minkin was not someone to whom I was willing to admit distress.

"I'm fine, thank you."

And I was fine: as quickly as it had happened, the sharp ache in my jaw receded and my sense of self transported itself back to the playground. I quickly stood up and brushed myself off The looming issue now was how far back in line I would have to stand because of this bothersome delay. By the time I was back in the classroom I had forgotten the incident entirely.

I was reminded of it again that evening as I sat on the living room rug earnestly trying to whip up a book report I had been putting off for two weeks. Now, to my grave dismay, the report was due the very next day. Gradually I became aware of possible salvation: I had a toothache. This wasn't as welcome a reason for staying home from school as a cold or a fever because it would entail a visit to the dentist. Had it been only a minor toothache I'd probably have preferred to suffer the wrath of my teacher rather than my mother's inevitable agitation, but now that I had noticed the ache it seemed to be worsening steadily.

What Our Readers Are Saying

Add a comment for a chance to win!
Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

crowyhead, August 22, 2006 (view all comments by crowyhead)
I actually started this last year, put it down, and finally picked it up and finished it this week. This is a moving and candid memoir that's not so much about surviving cancer, as about surviving surviving cancer. Lucy Grealy had Ewing's Sarcoma as a child, and treatment required the removal of a third of her jaw. What followed was fifteen years of painful cosmetic surgical procedures. Lucy found herself constantly torn between wanting to accept herself and be accepted as she was, and the desire to be normal, even beautiful.
Maybe it's not fair, but the impact of this memoir was lessened somewhat for me because Grealy committed suicide in 2002. The book ends on a hopeful note, but I ended up feeling depressed because I felt like Grealy ultimately gave up... I may read Anne Padgett's Truth and Beauty, which is about her friendship with Lucy Grealy. Maybe it would help me understand her better.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(31 of 55 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

Afterword by:
Patchett, Ann
Harper Perennial
Anastas, Benjamin
Grealy, Lucy
by Lucy Grealy
Afterword by:
Patchett, Ann
Patchett, Ann
New York
Diseases - Cancer
Disfigured persons.
Ewing's sarcoma
Personal Memoirs
Specific Groups - General
General Biography
United states
Grealy, Lucy
Ewing's sarcoma - Patients - United States
Biography - General
Health and Medicine-Cancer
Edition Number:
1st Perennial ed.
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Series Volume:
no. 03-1
Publication Date:
March 18, 2003
Grade Level:
8.12x5.32x.60 in. .44 lbs.

Other books you might like

  1. Truth and Beauty: A Friendship
    Used Hardcover $6.95
  2. She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders
    Used Trade Paper $5.95
  3. As Seen on TV: Provocations Used Hardcover $5.50
  4. As Seen on TV: Provocations Used Hardcover $5.50
  5. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A...
    Used Trade Paper $3.50
  6. Waist-High in the World: A Life... Used Trade Paper $4.95

Related Subjects

Biography » General
Biography » Medical
Biography » Women
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » Cancer
Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » Medical Biographies

Autobiography of a Face Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.95 In Stock
Product details 256 pages Perennial - English 9780060569662 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

I read this during a formative period when I was not a teenager anymore but not quite an adult. It was perfect timing. All of my foibles and insecurities were obliterated with this poignant memoir of a girl who has a rare type of bone cancer in her jaw and undergoes surgery and later reconstructive surgery all through her teens and 20s. Written as fiction but based on Lucy Grealy's real experiences, it destroys all your own personal vanities and superficial anxieties.

"Review" by , "Grealy has turned her misfortune into a book that is engaging and engrossing, a story of grace as well as cruelty."
"Review" by , "This is a young woman's first book, the story of her own life, and both book and life are unforgettable."
"Review" by , "[H]arrowing, lyrical....[Grealy's] discovery that true beauty lies within makes this a wise and healing book."
"Review" by , "[A] book you want to hand to people saying only, 'Read it.'...It's no surprise Grealy is a tremendously powerful writer: she saved her own life by telling herself stories to live by. Now she'll change our lives by sharing them."
"Review" by , "[G]racefully written....An unsentimental, honest, unflinching look at a single visage reflected (or distorted) in an unforgiving cultural mirror. A strong debut."
"Review" by , "This lucid and elegant memoir traces one woman's journey toward a self defined internally rather than by its reflection in society's mirrors."
"Review" by , "A beautifully composed work of literature... Autobiography of a Face is also a moving meditation on ugliness and beauty, of particular significance in a culture obsessed with the outward self."
"Synopsis" by , Acclaimed writer Benjamin Anastass searing, utterly moving memoir of fathers and sons, crushing debt and infidelity, and the first, cautious steps taken towards piecing a life back together.
"Synopsis" by ,

"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.

  • back to top


Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.