Ugly by Robert Hoge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was given this book by Katrina Yurenka of the Youth Services Book Review in exchange for a review.
When I first saw an excerpt of this book, I didn’t realize it was for young readers. “Ages 8 and up” is what’s written on the jacket flap; this would be a great (and meaningful) upper-elementary class read, possibly paired with Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I think younger readers will want to have some conversation while they are reading this.
Hoge tells the story of his birth and childhood in 1970s Brisbane, Australia. Robert was born with a large tumor which changed the way his face developed and grew while he was in utero. His legs also failed to fully develop.
Hoge has a lighthearted and direct way of expressing himself, making him likable from page one. The initial “imagine” story he uses in the first chapter, as well as the head of clay image he uses throughout, is both vividly descriptive and matter of fact.
Aside from describing his operations and challenges, Robert comes across as a perfectly normal kid of his time, running around in his neighborhood, wanting to be part of a team, making friends, and finding a way to watch Doctor Who instead of the news and current affairs programs his parents favored.
This is a coming of age tale that leads up to and ends with the beginning of Robert’s maturity and making important decisions for himself. Normally, I would be dissatisfied with the timing of the ending. As it’s for kids, it makes sense that he did not write in this book about university, his career path, or his adult personal life, all of which I can’t help but be curious and hopeful about. Lucky for me, and for any other grown-up readers, we know his life turns out okay: there he is, in his author photo on the back flap, smiling, married, a professional journalist, and father.
It can’t have been as easy for him as his writing in this book makes out; but, what a positive guy! This book could serve to be assuring to kids that, when people are able to know them and see past any prejudices they have about their differences, they will be loved.
Quotes of note:
p.15. “If Robert had serious medical problems within, I would never have hesitated to accept him, but because he looked different I found it terribly hard,” she [mom] said later.”
p.18. “It might have taken her a week to come see me for the first time and another month before she decided to bring me home, but when she did, Mom’s love for me grew fast and fierce.”
p.27. “Humans are like social Legos. We connect together with families. We build lives with friends. On our own, we’re just one piece. When we come together in groups, we make amazing things. Our admission ticket into these groups is not our thoughts or our feelings. Our faces are our tickets. Our faces let us look out and know others and let them know us.”
p.70. “I couldn’t help how I looked or what had happened to me since I was born, but I sure as hell could control how I dealt with people teasing me about it.”
Robert and I are close in age. Like him, like maybe all kids in our generation, we were fascinated by Skylab, spending our time looking upwards and imagining pieces of spacecraft landing on our heads.
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