Book Review: A Face for Picasso

A Face for Picasso: Coming of Age with Crouzon Syndrome by Ariel Henley


I was gifted this book by the author, and although memoir is not a genre I read a lot, I am so grateful that I got the chance to experience this beautiful book. I went into this knowing exactly zero about Crouzon Syndrome, a condition in which bones in the skull fuse prematurely, so this was very educational for me. I took my time reading this book, and I apologize to the author for this review being so delayed, but I felt the subject matter was too important for me to just breeze through it. I got about a third of the way through and then some personal issues cropped up and then the madness of the holidays, so I set it aside until I was able to put my complete focus back on it. And it is a testament to the quality of Henley’s writing that even after weeks had passed since I put it down, all of the details from what I had already read were still fresh in my mind and I did not need to go back and reread anything. Everything in her writing is so vivid that it was like I was there on the journey with her.

Henley’s enlightening and thought-provoking story is told in three parts – her young childhood, where we learn about the condition that she and her twin sister Zan were born with; her middle school years, in which she experiences all of the cruelty and ugliness that kids of that age are known for; and then her high school and college years, in which she is finally able to come to terms with the events of her life and take back some of the control that she needs in order to give herself the future she wants.

Henley’s story is an emotional one and as readers we experience a lot of those emotions along with her. I found myself angry a lot while reading this book. I was angry at the world that Ariel and Zan grew up in, full of stares and hatred and bullying and othering. As a mom, I have tried to raise my boys with a strong sense of empathy. Meanness in the world just makes me so damn sad. I work with high school kids, and I see this kind of behavior all the time. I do what I can to educate these adolescents in the areas of tolerance and acceptance, but unfortunately the internet gives everyone a chance to spew anonymous hatred these days. But I also felt the love that Ariel and Zan’s parents and siblings had for the two of them. I was full of hope every time that Ariel and Zan underwent a new surgery or tried something new. I was like a proud mama each time they persevered through yet more physical or emotional pain. I hoped that one day the world would realize what beautiful women they are, inside and out.

Telling her story through the lens of Picasso’s cubist painting was an absolutely brilliant decision on Henley’s part. After the initial mention of Picasso at the beginning of the book, I assumed that we had a reason for the title and that would be it. But the way Henley wove discussions of the artist and his works throughout her own story brought such clarity to larger societal issues regarding the concept of beauty and the way women are objectified and can be emotionally (and sometimes physically) abused as a result. Also, Picasso was an asshole.

I plan to recommend this book to teachers in my school district. I would love to see it added to the curriculum so that it can help our students understand why it’s so important to be accepting of ALL people, not just the ones that conform to some outdated and arbitrary standard of beauty.

I give A Face for Picasso five stars and recommend it to everyone, even those who don’t veer into the memoir arena very often.

Thank you again to the author for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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