Member Since 2001
This was a very long book that has a lot of impact. It is very heartfelt and sincere and one of the most moving books I have read. I usually am wary of authors who read their own books, but the emotion of the author adds meaning to this text and is an important part of the experience. The book is a very personal exploration of the experience of parenthood of children who fall 'far from the tree'. The author interviews hundreds of families, focusing on parents with children who are 'different'. Most are children who are unlike their parents in some way that creates a 'horizontal' identity with other people who are not related but share the same characteristic difference from the 'norm'. This is distinguished from a 'vertical' identity from family membership (i.e. father down to son). However the book also studies the issue of parents who purposefully or incidentally conceive children who share their horizontal identity. It is complex, emotional, and sometimes challenging and frustrating (not in terms of comprehension but rather in terms of experiencing emotionally difficult subject matter and politically/philosophically/religiously sensitive views). It explores issues of human morality and the essence of human dignity.
I cannot say it is the 'best' book I ever read, or even the best I have read recently. It doesn't really compare to other books, it's so much weightier than some of what I read, and so much more personal. The author addresses some of the most meaningful questions in life and therefore can't just be compared with other books very easily. It's about identity, parental love, loss, fulfillment, disability, eugenics, abortion - pretty much all the social and psychological hot buttons you can hit. What is wonderful about this book is that it poses many problems and then pushes you to look at things differently than where you start out. It discusses the implications of actions that are very emotional and forces the reader to question their own values and belief systems, asking you to examine the logical or illogical conclusions of your own beliefs and prejudices and those of the parents interviewed. It forces you to consider what you take for granted from many different perspectives.
The book seems to have stemmed from the author's own experience of growing up gay with parents who initially rejected that identity in their son. He seems to have suffered his own homophobia as a result even after he grew comfortable as an adult with a gay identity. Thus, the question of identity and parental love is central to his quest to understand the many identities of the people in the different groups he studies - deaf children, those with autism, Downs Syndrome children, criminal children, schizophrenics, etc. Sometimes the book bogs down with all the different identities and examples, but it is always valuable and sincere.
The book ends with a discussion of the author's own decision to become a parent. It's thus a very personal book as well as a study of parents and children with 'horizontal identities'. It is very focused on parental love and unconditional love and the nature of acceptance. Although I highly recommend the book, I think those who find it most satisfying will be those with some connection to people with horizontal identities or readers with very open minds willing to ask themselves questions that don't always have easy or evident answers.
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