In this true story, a boy born with a hideous face learns to not only accept himself, but help others see him for what he is.
*Ugly: a Memoir by Robert Hoge. Viking, 2016, 200 pages
Reading Level: Middle grades, 8-10
Recommended for: all ages
When we come together in groups, we make amazing things. Our admission ticket into these groups is not our thoughts or feelings. Our faces are our tickets. Our faces let us look out and know others and let them know us.
When he was born, the fifth child of working-class parents in Brisbane, Australia, his mother didn’t want him. A huge tumor took up half the baby’s face, forcing his eyes apart and robbing him of a nose, and his little legs were terribly misshapen. It took a few days for his mother to even look at him, but once she did, love took over. That was Robert’s first big break, and his second was the unanimous vote of his father and siblings to bring him home. Surgeries and struggles followed, but his family never wavered and as Robert grew in years, courage and resilience increased. He learned early on how to manage peers who were repulsed by him, but sometimes adult insensitivity and cruelty could reduce him to tears. One of his great disappointments in early life was physical prowess: his love of sports and competition seemed stymied by his legs until he discovered bowls, an English lawn game with a long history, and a dedicated coach who became a mentor, friend, and grandfather-figure. At the age of fourteen he faced a life-changing choice.
If you read the back flap you’ll know that Robert is a successful adult who’s had a varied, productive career and is married with two daughters. You’ll also know that he’s still ugly, with a face that would leap out in a crowd and linger in your memory. It will inevitably remind children’s book readers of R. J. Palacio’s novel Wonder, but without some of that (otherwise excellent) novel’s heavy moralizing. Ugly is a fast read covering his first fourteen years with a remarkable lack of cloying and self-pity, and the author’s final decision will stun most readers (as it did me). It will also give readers a benchmark for thinking about their own appearance and what lies behind it: “Everyone is uglier than they think. We are all more beautiful too. We all have scars only we can own.”
Cautions: Language (one “hell”)
Overall Rating: 4.75 (out of 5)