November 04, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Autobiography of a Face

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Lucy Grealy

Writing about illness — in this case the author’s childhood cancer, which resulted in a disfigured jaw — is always touchy. Such books tend to be either depressing exercises in self-indulgence or unrealistically uplifting morality tales. Happily, Grealy’s book is neither: One is challenged to find a single syllable of self-pity here (though she acknowledges having felt that way in the past), and neither is one patly cheered. With delicate, finely chiseled prose, Grealy seeks out the ironies of objectively disastrous experiences: the disorienting chemotherapy she endured as a girl; endless reconstructive tissue grafts; the early death of her father; the ever-present stares of classmates. Her indomitable wit (about everything from losing her hair to her lack of dates) and her endless capacity for hope convert the pain of her life into a book that can only be described as a pleasure. A-

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