Andrew Solomon has turned upside down the adage, "An apple doesn't fall far from the tree" in his exploration of a panoply of conditions that may sometimes distance children from their parents. The range of these situations is broad and often quite unrelated, but this theme of family dissonance and adaptation to that dissonance ties the book together in most aspects. While I can definitely recommend the book to many audiences, I did vacillate over whether to give it three or four stars. In the end, I have chosen to round down rather than up. My reasoning:
Solomon's research is solid and thorough and generally avoids the kind of "professionalese" that can sometimes infect scholastic writing of this nature. He has combined discussion of current scientific literature with extensive personal stories of families, and his accounts of these situations shows a real care for the people he has interviewed and spent hours and days and weeks with.
Solomon has included some situations many of us may not want to acknowledge or that may not even have crossed our radar as being problems for parents. We see stories of conventions of dwarfs or see a video clip of a child prodigy or read a news account of a juvenile crime spree or have our heartstrings tugged by Facebook entries about a Downs child named prom king, and we may not think of the parental struggles behind each of these diverse situations. Almost a dozen different challenges are presented chapter by chapter, giving us an opportunity to better understand how situations that are "not normal" tax even the most caring parents.
Each chapter stands almost alone in the coverage of a challenging parenting issue. If you don't have time to read over 700 pages (and reference almost 200 additional pages of notes and bibliography), you could zero in on just one or a few situations that you would like to learn more about.
The length of the book alone will be a problem for many, as this is not something to be skimmed over lightly. I read this as a hard copy and wonder whether the size of the text would work very well as an e-book, especially given my frequent referencing of notes and use of the index to go back to concepts and names mentioned earlier.
In his last chapter, Solomon notes "When broadmindedness blinds us to our offspring's needs, our love becomes denial," yet there are many places where it seems like an earnest and probably well-meaning effort at being broadminded and accepting of every difference noted has sometimes not been in the ultimate best interest of the children featured. While many readers may disagree with me, I am more than a little concerned that some of the family stories included may fall into what one "trans-friendly therapist" said: "Parents tell me often, and it's sort of Pzc, that they are following their child's lead." And though Solomon follows this quote with "If your child is seven, you probably don't let them choose what they're going to eat for dinner, let alone if they're going to transition to a new gender." However, Solomon generally seems most supportive of this child-leading-the-parent style, even when it may not be best for the child's long term development.
Finally, the beginning and end of the book (which, as many earlier reviewers have illustrated with their comments) contain Solomon's personal family story, both his relationships with his own parents and with his partner and very 21st century family structure. While this is every writer's privilege (and duty?), his own struggles seemed to be projected onto some of the stories in other chapters, creating a less objective look at the overall picture.
If you decide to read the book--and you should--don't just read the first chapter. But if you don't have time to read all of the text, read the first and last chapters along with those sections that are most relevant to you to get the appropriate context...and then come back later to the unread portions. I think you will be glad you did.