Book Review: Far From the Tree

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I think there might be something “funny” in the pages of Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon, because I couldn’t every time I tried to stop reading it, I kept getting pulled back in.  Let me explain…

I first learned of Mr. Solomon’s book while listening to an interview on NPR.  He explained that he had spent several years interviewing families about their children who had a fallen “far from the tree,” meaning they were very different from their parents.  This may have been because of a mental illness (schizophrenia), a physical disability (deafness), or the circumstances surrounding their conception (in rape).  I thought the topic sounded interesting as I frequently work with parents whose children are markedly different.  “Hmmm,” I thought, “I’m sure I can learn a thing or two.” Boy, was that an understatement.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the book arrives for my review, and it is ONE THOUSAND PAGES!  So, even though I make a point to read all my reviews cover to cover, I thought Far From the Tree would be the exception. I thought I’d read the introductory chapter, a few in the middle (the chapters are organized by topic; for example one chapter is on prodigies, another on transgender), and call it good.  It didn’t work out that way. Every time I tried to put the book down, it called to me from my night stand.  Wouldn’t you know, I read the whole thing. No, not read, devoured.  Because here’s the thing: this book is fantastic.

Not only is Far From the Tree superbly written – it was literally a thrill to read the finely crafted words – but the content was outstanding as well.  Mr. Solomon challenges us to think differently about how we love, but also (and in my opinion, even more importantly) how we define and understand disability.  What makes someone normal or abnormal, and who gets to decide these criteria? Psychologists? Law makers? Physicians? Pop culture and media?  These are important conversations, especially as we as an American culture are trying to expand our view of what is acceptable and/or normal, while (hopefully) simultaneously extending legal, healthcare, and other benefits to people who used to be considered well outside of the norm.

Many of the chapters were gut-wrenching, but even through teary-eyes I couldn’t stop reading.  Mr. Solomon’s many interviewees were so candid and thoughtful in the way they described their families and children.  Mr. Solomon obviously went to great lengths to create strong relationships with these families and individuals; he is a gifted man.

I heartily recommend this book.  Pick through it chapter by chapter, or read it in bits and pieces over time.  The messages, the struggles, and the questions posed are important for all of us to consider – whether our children have fallen far from us or not.

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Check out this review on Mr. Solomon's site!

Check out this review on Mr. Solomon’s site!