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Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity | [Andrew Solomon]

Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity

A brilliant and utterly original thinker, Andrew Solomon's journey began from his experience of being the gay child of straight parents. He wondered how other families accommodate children who have a variety of differences: families of people who are deaf, who are dwarfs, who have Down syndrome, who have autism, who have schizophrenia, who have multiple severe disabilities, who are prodigies, who commit crimes, who are transgender.
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Publisher's Summary

National Book Critics Circle Award, Nonfiction, 2013

From the National Book Award-winning author of the "brave...deeply humane...open-minded, critically informed, and poetic" (The New York Times) The Noonday Demon, comes a game-changer of a book about the impact of extreme personal and cultural difference between parents and children.

A brilliant and utterly original thinker, Andrew Solomon's journey began from his experience of being the gay child of straight parents. He wondered how other families accommodate children who have a variety of differences: families of people who are deaf, who are dwarfs, who have Down syndrome, who have autism, who have schizophrenia, who have multiple severe disabilities, who are prodigies, who commit crimes, who are transgender. Bookended with Solomon's experiences as a son, and then later as a father, this book explores the old adage that says the apple doesn't fall far from the tree; instead some apples fall a couple of orchards away, some on the other side of the world.

In 12 sharply observed and moving chapters, Solomon describes individuals who have been heartbreaking victims of intense prejudice, but also stories of parents who have embraced their childrens' differences and tried to change the world's understanding of their conditions. Solomon's humanity, eloquence, and compassion give a voice to those people who are never heard. A riveting, powerful take on a major social issue, Far from the Tree offers far-reaching conclusions about new families, academia, and the way our culture addresses issues of illness and identity.

©2012 Andrew Solomon (P)2012 Simon & Schuster, Inc

What the Critics Say

"In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon reminds us that nothing is more powerful in a child's development than the love of a parent. This remarkable new book introduces us to mothers and fathers across America - many in circumstances the rest of us can hardly imagine - who are making their children feel special, no matter what challenges come their way." (President Bill Clinton)

"This is one of the most extraordinary books I have read in recent times - brave, compassionate and astonishingly humane. Solomon approaches one of the oldest questions - how much are we defined by nature versus nurture? - and crafts from it a gripping narrative. Through his stories, told with such masterful delicacy and lucidity, we learn how different we all are, and how achingly similar. I could not put this book down." (Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies)

"An informative and moving book that raises profound issues regarding the nature of love, the value of human life, and the future of humanity." (Kirkus)

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  •  
    Karen Glen Gardner, NJ, United States 07-08-13
    Karen Glen Gardner, NJ, United States 07-08-13 Member Since 2014

    Likes: Cozy mysteries (cats a plus), personal memoirs,not too dark fantasy, books about the brain. Dislikes: Torture, animal cruelty.

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    "Fascinating stories of parenting special kids"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Far from the Tree to be better than the print version?

    Unlike some other reviewers I really like Andrew Solomon as a narrator for his own book. Usually I don't like authors as narrators but it really felt more that he was relating personally. I think a book this long without a good narrator would have been unbearable. I also don't think I could have made it through this in print form, and I am glad I did make it through.


    What did you like best about this story?

    As a parent of a special needs child myself, I was really interested in the personal stories of the families, particularly those facing issues I considered more challenging than mine. The stories in the chapters about schizophrenia and MSD I thought were particularly good. Though autism is a topic near and dear to me, that wasn't my favorite chapter. I didn't dislike it I just had stronger feelings on that subject and therefore it was easier to find things I disagreed with him on about it. However, with all the media attention that falls on high function autistics, and with how it is easier to get information from such people, I was glad to see Solomon provide examples of families facing the more severe forms. I saw reviewers object to repetition in the stories, but I did not object. I felt it helped drive home the point of the relentlessness of some people's issues. I felt less connected to some of the other chapters. I was not entirely convinced, despite Solomon's persuasive arguments, that all these chapters formed a cohesive whole. I found the chapter on musical prodigies particularly out of sync with the rest of the book and it held my interest the least. A lot of what went on there was more about abusive parent behavior than about a child's identity. The chapter on children of rape also felt out of sync and did not feel as inspiring to me as many of the others. It was certainly tragic and sad, but also had a lot of child abuse in it. I felt the strongest parts related to the traditional disabilities. However, I also found the chapter on Transgender people to be very informative and it did highlight a prejudice I wasn't even aware I had and helped me get passed that.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I did cry at several points over moving stories.


    Any additional comments?

    All in all, I would and did recommend it, particularly for people who are inspired by people facing challenges.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Debra Garfinkle 07-02-13

    author of books for teens and children

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    "Good, But It Could Have Been Great"

    I learned a lot about disabled children and their parents. Much of it was very heartwarming. The book presented wonderful life lessons in love, acceptance, and struggling against the odds.

    However, it could have been a stronger book it if had been edited down. Many of the examples were repetitive (for instance, showing many different families similarly affected by schizophrenia), and there were entire chapters that didn't seem to fit within the topic of the book (for instance, children conceived from rape). It was as if the author felt compelled to use every bit of research he'd done, and no one at the publishing house stopped him.

    Also, sometimes the author didn't allow much room for alternate viewpoints.For instance, the idea that it is beneficial for children to change their genders if they desire, no matter their age, was accepted with little argument.

    That said, the book was emotionally affecting and I know that much of what I learned about people in difficult circumstances will stay with me a long time.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Allen 06-26-13
    Allen 06-26-13
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    "Touched my heart and challenged my mind."


    An unforgettable book.

    As the parent of a severely disabled child, I knew I would identify with some of the chapters. What surprised me was the commonality between many of the parents of these diverse offspring. The author's commitment to these people over many years is astonishing, and I'll always be thankful for it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathy Davis, CA, United States 06-21-13
    Kathy Davis, CA, United States 06-21-13 Member Since 2008

    Newly retired, I am a reading fiend! I like many types of books, both fiction and non-fiction, with the exception of romance and fantasy

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    "My longest review!"

    First let me say, this is a very worthy read packed full of new information for me. I am rating it with 4 stars although I almost stopped reading in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. I have decided, after much mulling over and much thought, that the positives largely over weigh the negatives. It is a book I would recommend if the subject matter interests to you.

    Positives:
    I was glued to my mp3 player for three days, listening for hours at a time. I never got bored and felt I learned a great deal about the various child disabilities/problems that the author presented, some of which include deafness, autism, Down syndrome, transgender issues, prodigies (musical only), mental illness (schizophrenia) and homicidal/criminal behavior. I like the way each issue was described in detail, case histories were presented, and the related controversial and collateral issues were described.

    In addition, this book helped me to explore and address my own biases and prejudices toward certain issues that were featured.

    Negatives:
    At the start of this book, I was taken aback by the author's narration, to such an extent that I wondered if I would be able to keep reading the book. The subject matter greatly interested me and I did not want to quit. What I found so distressing about the narration was the monotone with which it was read. The speech sounded terribly affected, and I imagined the author as a British "wannabe." Because he attended Cambridge University, he had to get rid of his New York accent and start talking like a Brit? His pronunciations, along with his voice, made me cringe repeatedly. It was really distracting me from the subject matter and I wondered whether I might purchase the book for my Kindle, in order to read the remainder of the book. Somewhere in Part 4 or so, I somehow got the the point where I could ignore the annoying speech patterns and pronunciations (or he may have gotten tired and let go of some of the affectations). From that point on, I knew I would finish the audiobook.

    Other off-putting things occurred in the first chapter, where he discussed his homosexuality and I worried it would be the entire focus of the book, and in the last chapter, where he discusses his choice to have children. I couldn't help but chuckle when he described looking for the egg with the most perfect genes for his own child, and how he considered that if the newborn was defective, he could put it into care. Maybe I am being too hard on him but he did just write a 40 hour tome on exceptional, non-average children! I am sure many of us would have gone looking for perfect genes and may have had the same thoughts when faced with the possibility of having a disabled child.

    Additionally, I wonder whether homosexuality can be put in the same category along with what I consider more serious "differences" such as deafness, mental illness, autism, transgender issues, and children who have criminal behaviors. Perhaps this is my own bias showing through.

    Nevertheless, I did enjoy the book and it gave me much to think about. I learned a great deal and would recommend this particularly to parents of exceptional children or anyone who may want to explore the subject matter. Listen to the sample first to decide if you want it on audio or paper/Kindle.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    C. Blum Queens , New York 05-29-13
    C. Blum Queens , New York 05-29-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Well written and researched!"
    Would you listen to Far from the Tree again? Why?

    Maybe, if I needed to learn more about a particular group of people.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Very deep book and it was not one to be listened to in one sitting--especially considering it is over a thousand pages long.


    Any additional comments?

    One can learn much from all of Solomon's research that he did in this book interviewing so many families.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Menno 05-19-13
    Menno 05-19-13
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    "Parts tedious, Don't care for narrator"
    Is there anything you would change about this book?

    I would leave out more of the tedious, technical information


    Would you recommend Far from the Tree to your friends? Why or why not?

    Perhaps to those with a child with one of the anomolies addressed in the book


    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    I really disliked the author's narration. He voice was affected. His narration was slow. His delivery was dull.


    Was Far from the Tree worth the listening time?

    Not really.


    Any additional comments?

    Aside from the occasional interesting profile, I would not recommend this book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    pamela Pflugerville, TX, United States 04-06-13
    pamela Pflugerville, TX, United States 04-06-13 Member Since 2014
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    "Stories of life from the perspectives of differenc"
    Would you listen to Far from the Tree again? Why?

    Once is enough -- well done.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    The interview of the parents of Dylan -- one of the shooters in the Columbine shooting. Such a great job of showing a very different perspective -- I have great empathy and respect for them now.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    It was well written -- many small stories in one package. Too much for one sitting. Often intense information. But I definitely wanted to go back to listen to more.


    Any additional comments?

    The book greatly stretched my perspectives and empathy for people living with the conditions and their parents. Especially the loneliness of parents with children with autism, the perspective of being the one that society stares at because they are different, and the immense difficulty of developing a personal identity when you are very different from and often not accepted by much of society.

    The discussion of vertical vs horizontal relationships/family was very interesting.

    I wish the author would have discussed more about the costs vs value to society of some of the conditions that he reviews -- such as his estimate that an autistic child costs about $5 million during their life but no discussion about the return on this investment for society. Schizophrenia is another topic he considers -- it is also very expensive. I have worked with severely retarded, autistic, and mentally ill people and see the huge costs -- with apparently very little return. He did not discuss what society receives from these costs other than diversity. Is the "diversity" worth the enormous cost? And is the "diversity" something that society even wants? It seems that the solution was usually more money, more services. But not much on the long term return for this money and services. And is this the best use, for society, of these resources? What if these resources were invested in people with potential to give more back to society? No easy answers but the discussion is needed. Resources are not unlimited.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer 03-29-13
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    "Boring"
    Any additional comments?

    This book is for people who have never given a thought to the differences among people. Perhaps people who stereotype others. Or who lack empathy. It is not at all interesting or entertaining. Solomon colors his discoveries by his own sad youth of not being able to express himself as a gay person growing up.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    R. Davids WI, USA 03-05-13
    R. Davids WI, USA 03-05-13 Member Since 2013

    Panda

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    "Very good if you can get through it!"
    What made the experience of listening to Far from the Tree the most enjoyable?

    The vast amounts of personal accounts.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The insights and love that the author was able to share with us through the personal accounts and his own experiences.


    Did Andrew Solomon do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

    Yes, everyone was very different, yet he brought out their sameness to everyone and every family.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Both.


    Any additional comments?

    The author gets a bit droning. I was so interested in the actual stories and the material, but his voice did put me to sleep a few times.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Linda A. Wright Tallahassee, FL United States 03-02-13
    Linda A. Wright Tallahassee, FL United States 03-02-13 Member Since 2013

    I'm a recovering librarian. Since I had a stroke in 2002 I have found reading print difficult. I am so grateful for audiobooks.

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    "You must read this book"

    It seemed to take me forever to read this audiobook because I kept re-reading what I had just heard. The honesty and respect for individuality is unique. Although the book is dense with research and background references, it is as readable as fiction.
    At the end of each Chapter, I had to put it down to reflect on what I had just read. This book is as much about adult children and identity as it is about parenting.
    I began telling friends, "You must read this book" by the end of the first section and my enthusiasm increased the more I read. I learned something even in the sections where I felt some familiarity with the subject.
    Sections I considered skipping because they seemed irrelevant to me turned out to be the most thought provoking.
    The people Solomon interviewed offer such a wide range of personal opinions; it was clear that Solomon can balance widely different conclusions and have them all be true.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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