Ugly by Robert Hoge
Published by Hachette Australia
Robert Hoge was born ugly. Top of the range, A-grade ugly.
The true story of Ugly begins in an art class, with the perfect face being formed from clay. It is complete. It is beautiful. And it is pleasing to the eye … until … a boy rams a ball of clay right into the middle of the face. Now it is ugly. Just like him.
Robert's memoir for younger readers starts from the moment of his birth, as told to him, and explains how a tumour had made him ugly. He also tells the story of being rejected by his mother, and the decision by his two brothers and sisters that decided his fate and welcomed him home to their family, where Robert's mother's rejection turns to a fierce acceptance, protectiveness and love for her ugly boy.
As time goes by, and after six operations since birth, doctors at the Brisbane Mater Hospital decide to perform cutting edge surgery. Robert has his ugly face reconstructed, including a nose made from the big toe of his amputated foot, and out of that operating theatre came Robert Hoge. Born a second time. Still ugly.
With two artificial legs, he learned to walk. Then he was off to primary school where he learned, besides an academic education, that other children could be cruel. But Robert continued on, defying the odds. He learned to swim. He participated in running races. He lived through the repercussions of messy handwriting in grade three. He enjoyed the best teacher ever in grade four and got better at dealing with kids outside of the classroom. He even found his first true love, of two days. And better still, one day, Robert discovered that he could make others laugh when one of his artificial legs accidentally fell off.
Ugly continues into high school, where Robert received a whole lot of terrible names: Toothpick Legs, Flat-Nose, Pinocchio and Go-Go-Gadget Rob, to name just a few. Robert rates each name on the origin, originality, hurt factor, laugh factor and how he got over it. Beside the negative aspects in high school, you will learn of Robert's courageous spirit, his shenanigans and his humour that will have you laughing until it hurts.
In the final pages of Ugly, Robert recounts the day that doctors proposed to perform another seriously complex operation to make him look more 'normal', except, there was a risk that he could lose his vision. At the age of 14, Robert refused the operation. He decided to own his face. It was who he was. It helped craft who he is. He had become who he was because of his ugliness, because of his disability. It was him, his legs and his ugly face against the world.
As Robert's extraordinary true story about growing up with a disability settles in my mind, it occurs to me that the teenagers at Robert's high school unknowingly got one of Robert's teasing names perfectly correct, when you change it from a negative to a positive. I bet they never knew that it would suit Robert so aptly in a positive context in the years to come. It was Name Number 4 - Transformer. In reading Robert Hoge's book, Ugly, Robert the Transformer will transform the way that you see people with physical disabilities. It will help you see past the outside and into the inside, where you will see a beauty of emotion, intellect and humour far, far more precious than any outer skin deep beauty that will change and fade with time.
Ugly is recommended for primary school readers (and is a must for every school library), but I believe it is well worth reading for any age beyond those years. It is indeed a beaut story about one very ugly kid!
CKT Book Reviewer
Author: Robert Hoge
Illustrator: Nick Strathopoulos
Publisher: Lothian Children’s Books
Published: August 2015