I don't read too many autobiographies/memoirs, and when you're trying to find a good one for your fifth grader to meet the requirements for his class's 30 Book Challenge before the last week of school, they are hard to come by. Fortunately, our son's friend told him about this book, and it was in the school library. Our ten year-old boy doesn't really like to read very much; he'd rather be running and climbing trees and building with Legos and playing Minecraft. He was not at all thrilled that he was required to read 30 books this school year, and they had to be of different genres yet to boot. We have shelves and shelves of books for all ages in our old farmhouse, but we really didn't have many memoirs that a preteen would be interested in reading. I was relieved when he checked out Ugly by Robert Hoge.
This story caught his attention from the start. We had watched some episodes of Call the Midwife, so he was familiar with babies born in the 1960s and 1970s being born with major malformations due to medicines pregnant mothers were often given before the medical experts knew there was a link. We all cried together when we saw one particular scene where a baby girl was born with no arms, no legs, and only part of a trunk and head. The attending doctor and nurse left her abandoned on a counter in front of an open window to speed up the process of a "natural death." One of the sisters/midwives discovered her there and wrapped her up in a blanket and held her, soothed her, and baptized her until she took her last breath. She was able to console her mother who hadn't even had a chance to see her baby by telling her that the baby felt loved in her dying moments. I went through half a box of tissues that night.
Robert Hoge was one of those babies born in Australia in 1972 with only partially formed legs and a large tumor growing out of the center of his face which left him with no nose and eyes on the sides of his head. He was the youngest of five children in a working class family, and his parents didn't take him home from the hospital immediately. In fact, they weren't sure they were going to take him home ever, but they finally asked his siblings what they would like to do, and they unanimously voted to keep him. Once they made the decision, his entire family was committed to giving him the most normal life they could.
His story is not one of sorrow, but instead, it's a very straightforward account of his childhood and the various incidents that made him who he is. It's geared toward adolescents and juveniles, so it's an easy and quick read, but it holds your attention as you find yourself routing for him on field day, on a bicycle, in the swimming pool, and on the playground. There are plenty of humorous tales interwoven through his examples of overcoming adversity. I won't spoil the ending for you, but he ends his memoir at the age of 14 when he is given the choice of whether or not he will have one final surgery in an attempt to make him look more "normal."
Our son talked about this book in the car and at the dinner table, and he urged me to read it. There are very few books that he recommends to anyone, so I was intrigued. I put it off because I'm already in the middle of several other books, as I always am, and I wasn't looking forward to reading another children's book. However, I promised that I would read it over this Memorial Day weekend, and I finished it in two days. Afterwards, I did a Google search to see what this guy actually looks like and what his life is like now. Again, no spoiler alert from me. You've got to read his book first and resist the temptation to find him on the Internet before you do.
I promise that you won't be disappointed.