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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Book Review: Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon


I found this topic fascinating. How do children who are significantly different from their parents--who are deaf, little people, gay, or have autism or schizophrenia, etc.--find their cohort and identify with them more than their own families. I have watched documentaries on deaf culture, and I watch Little People, Big World and The Little Couple, and I have a schizophrenic aunt, so I found the topic particularly fascinating.

I found in the early chapters, regarding deafness and dwarfism, that his hypothesis rang perfectly true. People with those issues often do feel closer to others with the same issue than they do to their parents and siblings. However, with subsequent chapters, it didn't hold up as well. With autism severe disabilities, the parents form a cohort with parents dealing with similar issues in their children, but the children don't. There aren't conferences and colleges and social clubs for people with autism or schizophrenia. And after that, it fell apart even further, as parents of children with schizophrenia often don't know there's an issue until the child is in their late teens or twenties, and so while there is still a great deal of responsibility and worry and searching for medical assistance, the parents don't band together the way they do when trying to find the right school situation for their child. And with children of rape, the children often don't know, and the mothers often hide the trauma, the opposite of seeking out a peer group. Child prodigies also didn't seem to have much peer relations, nor their parents, nor did transgendered children.

While the concept that there are children who turn out radically different and might have more in common with people with similar issues than their parents is born out by the book, that they do actually have cohorts that they are aware of and participate in, does not. And as the book is insanely long (although it was a fast read), I would have thought the author would be better off focusing his topic more narrowly, so only include groups that fall into his thesis and therefore also write a book with a more approachable length.

Now the other groups, the ones that don't agree with the book's thesis, are fascinating nonetheless and I did thoroughly enjoy the book. I learned a ton, and I was inspired by the families dealing with severe disabilities, confused about what is best for the parents of deaf children and little people, and my heart broke for the children of rape and their mothers. I would recommend the book, but just be aware that it's more a book just about differences between children and parents and how very different differences can result in very different coping methods, support, or lack thereof. If he had been a lot less insistent of his hypothesis in the introductory chapter, the book would have been a lot stronger. Or, again, perhaps broken into smaller books where the groups were arranged more by commonalities.

The writing was masterful, the research was extensive but not intrusive, and the stories were stunning. I greatly admire Mr. Solomon as a writer.

I bought this book at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, from Parnassus Books.

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