A gracefully written account of one woman's physical and spiritual struggle to surmount childhood cancer, permanent disfigurement, and, ultimately, ``the deep bottomless grief...called ugliness.'' After surviving relentless medical horrors—the removal at age nine of half her jaw due to Ewing Sarcoma, two and a half years of chemotherapy, and two years of reconstructive surgery—Grealy's true battle begins when she looks in the mirror and finds herself trapped behind a face, in a ``self'' that she hates, and for which her peers cruelly punish her. Once a buoyant, sociable tomboy, Grealy, through her suffering, becomes isolated—finding human comfort mainly among the patients she meets in her numerous hospital stays. She writes, ``I felt as if my illness were a blanket the world had thrown over me.... And somehow I transformed that blanket into a tent, beneath which I almost happily set up camp.'' Still a young girl, she must cope not only with her own fear but with the awkwardly expressed fears of her parents as well. Eventually, as she grows up, she finds solace and inspiration in the company of horses and other animals, and as a young adult, she cultivates an enriching inner life through reading, and later writing. Now an award-winning poet and essayist (a short version of her tale originally appeared in Harper's and received a National Magazine Award), Grealy's tale ends not with magical deliverance, but with hard-won self-acceptance. Nearly two decades and 30 surgical procedures later, Grealy finally stops waiting for her life to begin and comes to terms with her face—her ``self.'' An unsentimental, honest, unflinching look at a single visage reflected (or distorted) in an unforgiving cultural mirror. A strong debut.
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