Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity [NOOK Book]

Overview

From the National Book Award–winning author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression comes a monumental new work, a decade in the writing, about family. In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.

Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, ...
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Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity

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Overview

From the National Book Award–winning author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression comes a monumental new work, a decade in the writing, about family. In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.

Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, as are the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter.

All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves. Drawing on forty thousand pages of interview transcripts with more than three hundred families, Solomon mines the eloquence of ordinary people facing extreme challenges. Whether considering prenatal screening for genetic disorders, cochlear implants for the deaf, or gender reassignment surgery for transgender people, Solomon narrates a universal struggle toward compassion. Many families grow closer through caring for a challenging child; most discover supportive communities of others similarly affected; some are inspired to become advocates and activists, celebrating the very conditions they once feared. Woven into their courageous and affirming stories is Solomon’s journey to accepting his own identity, which culminated in his midlife decision, influenced by this research, to become a parent.

Elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far from the Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance, and tolerance—all rooted in the insight that love can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human.

Winner of the 2013 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Nonfiction
Winner of the 2013 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize
2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award Winner
Winner of the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction
Winner of the 2012 Books for a Better Life Award for Psychology
One of the New York Times Book Review's Top 10 Books of 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

The National Book Award-winning author of The Noonday Demon has written another richly nuanced account; this one, a captivating narrative about the parents of marginalized children. The harvest of ten years, Far from the Tree deserves a wide audience.

The New York Times
[Solomon's] winding volume sometimes tried my patience, but my respect for it rarely wavered…The bulk of Far From the Tree comprises profiles of families in extremis. Many of these will leave you weeping at the resilience so many display in the face of adversity. "I almost drowned him in the tears I shed over him," one mother says about a son with Down syndrome. That's a typical sentence here. This is a book that shoots arrow after arrow into your heart. Yet there's nothing maudlin. Mr. Solomon's prose is dry and epigrammatic.
—Dwight Garner
Publishers Weekly
A profoundly moving new work of research and narrative by National Book Award–winner Solomon (The Noonday Demon) explores the ways that parents of marginalized children—being gay, dwarf, severely disabled, deaf, autistic, schizophrenic, the product of rape, or given to criminal tendencies or prodigious musical talent, to name a few he chose—have been transformed and largely enriched by caring for their high-needs children. These children are marginalized by society, classified traditionally as ill and abnormal, and shunned; in the cases of those who are deaf or homosexual, they were forced to conform to mainstream strictures. A seasoned journalist and LGBT activist, Solomon relies on anecdotes to convey the herculean tasks facing parents and caregivers of special-needs children because “stories acknowledge chaos,” and he takes great pains to probe the dark side of parental despair and anger, as well as ennobling efforts of resilience and strength. Sifting through arguments about nature versus nurture, Solomon finds some startling moments of discovery, for example, among Deaf activists who ferociously cling to their marginality, parents of children with Down syndrome who express their children’s infinite “mystery and beauty,” and the truculent compassion of Dylan Klebold’s parents, 10 years after the Columbine High School shootings. Solomon’s own trials of feeling marginalized as gay, dyslexic, and depressive, while still yearning to be a father, frame these affectingly rendered real tales about bravely playing the cards one’s dealt. (Nov.)
Booklist
“Years of interviews with families and their unique children culminate in this compassionate compendium…The truth Solomon writes about here is as poignant as it is implacable, and he leaves us with a reinvented notion of identity and individual value."
ELLE
Far from the Tree is fundamentally about the bonds and burdens of family, and it’s a huge valentine to those who embrace the challenge of raising children who are in some way not what they had hoped for.
— Virginia Vitzthum
The Wall Street Journal - Paul McHugh
“Solomon has found remarkable fonts of love and kindness in the mothers and fathers of children afflicted with severe problems, and he captures their lives in one touching anecdote after another.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune - Ann Bauer
“A raucous, joyful tribute that exalts all parents who love their alien offspring with molten force.”
The Oregonian - George Estreich
“Solomon is a superb writer…[Far from the Tree] is the author’s “Song of Myself,” a book containing multitudes. It is a gorgeous, necessary, ambitious book.”
Lambda Literary Review - Rachel Wexelbaum
“Solomon treats his subjects with great empathy.”
Parents magazine - Kristen Kemp
“Deeply profound…[A] brilliant tome.”
Nature - Tanguy Chouard
“A marvel of precision, lucidity and, despite its 962 pages, concision…This book will change your view of your own species.”
Curtis Sittenfeld
“The most amazing book I’ve ever read…”
The Christian Science Monitor - Sue Ransohoff
“A book to admire, learn from, and cherish.”
Elizabeth Gilbert
“A brilliant and humane examination of family and resilience and humility and confusion and loyalty and difference and love…I want everyone to read it.”
The New York Times Book Review
It’s a book everyone should read and there’s no one who wouldn’t be a more imaginative and understanding parent—or human being—for having done so.
— Julie Myerson
The Boston Globe
Solomon is a storyteller of great intimacy and ease…He approaches each family’s story thoughtfully, respectfully…Bringing together their voices, Solomon creates something of enduring warmth and beauty: a quilt, a choir.
— Kate Tuttle
The New York Times
Solomon’s first chapter, entitled ‘Son,’ is as masterly a piece of writing as I’ve come across all year. It combines his own story with a taut and elegant précis of this book’s arguments. It is required reading…This is a book that shoots arrow after arrow into your heart.
— Dwight Garner
People
A brave, beautiful book that will expand your humanity.
— Anne Leslie
USA Today
[Far from the Tree] is a masterpiece of non-fiction, the culmination of a decade’s worth of research and writing, and it should be required reading for psychologists, teachers, and above all, parents…A bold and unambiguous call to redefine how we view difference…A stunning work of scholarship and compassion.
— Carmela Ciuraru
The Washington Post
Deeply moving…
— Lisa Zeidner
The San Francisco Chronicle
A book of extraordinary ambition…Part journalist, part psychology researcher, part sympathetic listener, Solomon’s true talent is a geographic one: he maps the strange terrain of the human struggle that is parenting.
— Brook Wilensky-Lanford
Time
Monumental…Solomon has an extraordinary gift for finding his way into the relatively hermetic communities that form around conditions…and gaining the confidence of the natives.
— Lev Grossman
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Masterfully written and brilliantly researched…Far from the Tree stands apart from the countless memoirs and manuals about special needs parenting published in the last couple of decades.
— Tina Calabro
The New Yorker
A careful, subtle, and surprising book.
— Nathan Heller
The New York Times Book Review - Julie Myerson
“It’s a book everyone should read and there’s no one who wouldn’t be a more imaginative and understanding parent—or human being—for having done so.”
The Boston Globe - Kate Tuttle
“Solomon is a storyteller of great intimacy and ease…He approaches each family’s story thoughtfully, respectfully…Bringing together their voices, Solomon creates something of enduring warmth and beauty: a quilt, a choir.”
The New York Times - Dwight Garner
“Solomon’s first chapter, entitled ‘Son,’ is as masterly a piece of writing as I’ve come across all year. It combines his own story with a taut and elegant précis of this book’s arguments. It is required reading…This is a book that shoots arrow after arrow into your heart.”
PEOPLE - Anne Leslie
“A brave, beautiful book that will expand your humanity.”
USA Today - Carmela Ciuraru
“[Far from the Tree] is a masterpiece of non-fiction, the culmination of a decade’s worth of research and writing, and it should be required reading for psychologists, teachers, and above all, parents…A bold and unambiguous call to redefine how we view difference…A stunning work of scholarship and compassion.”
The Washington Post - Lisa Zeidner
“Deeply moving…”
The San Francisco Cronicle - Brook Wilensky-Lanford
“A book of extraordinary ambition…Part journalist, part psychology researcher, part sympathetic listener, Solomon’s true talent is a geographic one: he maps the strange terrain of the human struggle that is parenting.”
TIME - Lev Grossman
“Monumental…Solomon has an extraordinary gift for finding his way into the relatively hermetic communities that form around conditions…and gaining the confidence of the natives.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Tina Calabro
“Masterfully written and brilliantly researched…Far from the Tree stands apart from the countless memoirs and manuals about special needs parenting published in the last couple of decades.”
The New Yorker - Nathan Heller
“A careful, subtle, and surprising book.”
From the Publisher
“It’s a book everyone should read and there’s no one who wouldn’t be a more imaginative and understanding parent—or human being—for having done so.”

“Solomon is a storyteller of great intimacy and ease…He approaches each family’s story thoughtfully, respectfully…Bringing together their voices, Solomon creates something of enduring warmth and beauty: a quilt, a choir.”

“Solomon’s first chapter, entitled ‘Son,’ is as masterly a piece of writing as I’ve come across all year. It combines his own story with a taut and elegant précis of this book’s arguments. It is required reading…This is a book that shoots arrow after arrow into your heart.”

“A brave, beautiful book that will expand your humanity.”

“[Far from the Tree] is a masterpiece of non-fiction, the culmination of a decade’s worth of research and writing, and it should be required reading for psychologists, teachers, and above all, parents…A bold and unambiguous call to redefine how we view difference…A stunning work of scholarship and compassion.”

“Deeply moving…”

“A book of extraordinary ambition…Part journalist, part psychology researcher, part sympathetic listener, Solomon’s true talent is a geographic one: he maps the strange terrain of the human struggle that is parenting.”

“Monumental…Solomon has an extraordinary gift for finding his way into the relatively hermetic communities that form around conditions…and gaining the confidence of the natives.”

“Masterfully written and brilliantly researched…Far from the Tree stands apart from the countless memoirs and manuals about special needs parenting published in the last couple of decades.”

“A careful, subtle, and surprising book.”

ELLE - Virginia Vitzthum
Far from the Tree is fundamentally about the bonds and burdens of family, and it’s a huge valentine to those who embrace the challenge of raising children who are in some way not what they had hoped for.”
More - Judith Newman
“[These] stories are entirely unpredictable and offer us the full range of human experience—not only the horror but also the astonishing beauty—and in the end a Shakespearean sense that we are such stuff as dreams are made of.”
President Bill Clinton
“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.”
Siddhartha Mukherjee
"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.”
Philip Gourevitch
“Far-reaching, original, fascinating—Andrew Solomon's investigation of many of the most intense challenges that parenthood can bring compels us all to reexamine how we understand human difference. Perhaps the greatest gift of this monumental book, full of facts and full of feelings, is that it constantly makes one think, and think again.”
Eric Kandel
“Solomon, a highly original student of human behavior, has written an intellectual history that lays the foundation for a 21st century Psychological Bill of Rights. In addition to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on the basis of race and religion, this Bill extends inalienable rights of psychological acceptance to people on the basis of their identity. He provides us with an unrivalled educational experience about identity groups in our society, an experience that is filled with insight, empathy and intelligence. We also discover the redefining, self-restructuring nature that caring for a child produces in parents, no matter how unusual or disabled the child is. Reading Far from the Tree is a mind-opening experience.”
Malcolm Gladwell
“Andrew Solomon has written a brave and ambitious work, bringing together science, culture and a powerful empathy. Solomon tells us that we have more in common with each other—even with those who seem anything but normal—than we would ever have imagined.”
Jennifer Egan
Far from the Tree is a landmark, revolutionary book. It frames an area of inquiry—difference between parents and children—that many of us have experienced in our own lives without ever considering it as a phenomenon. Andrew Solomon plumbs his topic thoroughly, humanely, and in a compulsively readable style that makes the book as entertaining as it is illuminating.”
Library Journal
Winner of the National Book Award for The Noonday Demon and a board member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and Columbia Medical School, Solomon began seeing illness and identity as related when he covered the deaf pride movement in the 1990s. Here, he expands on this notion by exploring how families deal with children who fall outside the perceived boundaries of normal—those with dwarfism, Down syndrome, or exceptional genius, for instance, or who commit serious crimes—showing how both family and children redefine themselves. Not specialized; there will be broad interest.
Kirkus Reviews
National Book Award–winning journalist Solomon (The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, 2001, etc.) uses issues raised by disability to examine the nature of parenthood, the definition of disability and the ability to control reproduction to create designer children. More than a decade ago, when he was assigned to cover a student protest at the Lexington Center for the Deaf in Queens, N.Y., over the hiring of a CEO with normal hearing, the author began to look at medical and cultural issues raised by disability. The protesters demanded that deafness should not be considered a disability, but rather a neuro-diversity on par with ethnic diversity. Some members of the deaf community even considered cochlear implants in young children as "a genocidal attack on a vibrant community" because of the linguistic richness of sign language. Solomon also wrote a piece on child prodigies based on an interview with the Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin, and he followed with a story about the lives of dwarfs based on the experience of a friend who sought role models for her daughter. Gradually, Far from the Tree began to take shape as the author explored more deeply the question of disability. Additional chapters cover Down syndrome (a genetic disorder), autism (of unknown origin), transgenderism and more. Solomon writes about the transformative, "terrifying joy of unbearable responsibility" faced by parents who cherish severely disabled children, and he takes an in-depth look at the struggles of parents of autistic children who behave destructively. He also explores the fascinating mental lives of independently functioning autistic individuals and speculates on the possibility that geniuses such as Mozart and Einstein were at the far end of the spectrum. Throughout, Solomon reflects on his own history as a gay man who has been bullied when he didn't conform to society's image of masculinity. An informative and moving book that raises profound issues regarding the nature of love, the value of human life and the future of humanity.
The New York Times Book Review
This is a passionate and affecting work that will shake up your preconceptions and leave you in a better place. It's a book everyone should read and…there's no one who wouldn't be a more imaginative and understanding parent—or human being—for having done so.
—Julie Myerson
The Washington Post
Solomon forcefully showcases parents who not only aren't horrified by the differences they encounter in their offspring, but who rise to the occasion by embracing them. In so doing, they reveal a "shimmering humanity" that speaks to our noblest impulses to nurture. Far From the Tree is massively ambitious and...often inspirational about the "infinitely deep" and mysterious love of parents for their children.
—Lisa Zeidner
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439183106
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 11/13/2012
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 976
  • Sales rank: 15,837
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

Andrew Solomon is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and winner of the 2001 National Book Award; and of the critically acclaimed novel A Stone Boat. He is a lecturer in psychiatry at Cornell University and Special Advisor on LGBT affairs to the Yale University’s Department of Psychiatry.
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Read an Excerpt

III

Dwarfs

Until I attended my first dwarf convention—the 2003 Little People of America (LPA) meeting in Danvers, Massachusetts—I had no clue how many kinds of dwarfism there are, nor how many varieties of appearance are collected under the category. Dwarfism is a low-incidence condition, usually occurring because of a random genetic mutation. Since most dwarfs are born to average-height parents, they do not have vertical community. There has been occasional talk about building a town for little people (LPs); there are metropolises where activist LPs have settled; there are high concentrations of otherwise rare dwarfing conditions among the Amish; but there has never been a significant geographic concentration of people of short stature. This means that the national LPA gatherings are not simply occasions to attend lectures and consult medical experts; for some participants, they are the annual exception to a certain kind of loneliness. The gatherings are emotionally intense; one dwarf I met told me she was “happy for one week a year,” although others emphasized that they love both of their lives—the one in the larger world, and the one among their LPA friends. More than 10 percent of Americans of short stature belong to LPA, and the organization has a role in the LP community that is greater than that of similar groups for comparable populations.

Arriving at the Sheraton Ferncroft Resort, where the convention was taking place, I was struck by how the concentration of LPs changed my perception of them. Instead of seeing, primarily, short stature, I saw that one was exceptionally beautiful, that one was unusually short even for a dwarf, that one laughed uproariously and often, that one had an especially intelligent face—and so I began to recognize how generically I had responded to little people until then. I understood what a relief it had to be for them that no one was focused on their height. Of course, the LPA convention was all about stature, but it was also the place where stature became blessedly irrelevant.

It would be difficult for an outsider to acknowledge this particularizing view of, for example, Latinos or Muslims. To say that a person’s ethnicity or religion had overwhelmed, even temporarily, one’s ability to appreciate his other personal characteristics would seem bigoted. But dwarfism has been the exception to these social rules. According to Betty Adelson, author of The Lives of Dwarfs and Dwarfism, “The only permissible prejudice in PC America is against dwarfs.” Mary D’Alton, chair of Columbia University’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and a leader in the field of high-risk pregnancy, told me that dwarfism is the most difficult diagnosis to communicate to expectant parents. “You say that the baby has a hole in his heart,” she said, “and they say, ‘But you can fix that, right?’ But when I tell someone that they will be having a dwarf, they often seem disgusted by the idea.”

Many of the attendees I met my first day at LPA could identify instantly conditions that I had never heard of or imagined and had certainly never seen. When I went down to the conference disco the first night, I saw a brother and sister who had primordial dwarfism; they were full-grown, perfectly proportioned, and only about twenty-nine inches high. Their parents stood with them to make sure they weren’t trampled—a danger even at the dwarf convention. I learned that the girl played percussion in her high school band; she had a classmate who pushed her tiny wheelchair, and she held the drum in her lap—looking, in the words of a dwarf who was herself just three foot eight, “like a marionette.” The conference featured athletic competitions; a marathon-length talent show, including acts from Christian music to break dancing; and a fashion show, which revealed a broad range of dressy and casual styles, all tailored to little bodies. The conference also provided an eagerly awaited opportunity for dating. A dwarf comedian cracked, “You know you’re a teenager at LPA if you’ve had more boyfriends this week than you’ve had in the last year.”

• • •

When I met Mary Boggs on my second day at LPA, she told me that the organization had changed her life. When her daughter Sam was born in 1988, the obstetrician initially assumed that the baby’s diminutive size was a result of her premature arrival. A month later, while she was still in the neonatal intensive care unit, he diagnosed her with achondroplasia. “We would have rather had a child that was deaf or blind,” Mary told me. “Just anything besides a dwarf would have been better. When you’re thinking about what could go wrong with a pregnancy, this doesn’t cross your mind. We were thinking, ‘Why did we have another child at all?’”

Sam came home to her parents’ house in the suburbs of Washington, DC, on oxygen and a monitor. After six months, when Sam was declared physically healthy, Mary took her to her first local LPA meeting. When Sam was a year and a half old, she had a shunt inserted in her head to relieve her hydrocephalus (the accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the head); fortunately, she did not have the skeletal problems that in later life afflict so many people with achondroplasia. Mary and her husband got step stools and put them all over the house; they purchased light-switch extenders; they moved the faucet on the kitchen sink. These adjustments at home were easier to control than the challenges outside. “We’ve had people chase us down the grocery aisle to ask questions,” Mary said. “We learned to stare back. It frightens them off. I’d watch Sam not playing with the other kids because she’s too small to do what they do. You just feel sad.”

Before Sam set off for kindergarten, her parents told her that other kids would call her names; they reviewed what some of those names might be and taught her appropriate responses. Mary went to the school and explained Sam’s special needs, giving the teacher a book about dwarfs that she could read aloud to the class. The school lowered the sink and water fountain and installed a grab bar so Sam could pull herself up on the toilet. The kids in her class learned her story, but each year it was new to an incoming kindergarten class, and some would call her names. So Sam decided to make a presentation to each incoming class. She would explain, “I’m little, but I’m eight years old. I’m in third grade. I’m a dwarf, and I’m just like you all, but just short.” She did that every year through elementary school, and the teasing stopped.

When Sam was five, the Boggs family attended their first national LPA convention. “We walked in and saw a thousand dwarfs,” Mary said. “Sam was in shock. I thought my other daughter, who is average height, was going to cry. It took two or three days for us to take it in.” Over the years that followed, the Boggs family persuaded extended family and friends to come to meetings, so that they would know dwarfs other than Sam. “The grandparents could see adult dwarfs and realize, ‘Okay, this is what Sam’s going to look like,’” Mary said. She considered for a minute. “We went for Sam, but also so we could be comfortable with her. To make it easier for us to love her right.”

Middle school was more difficult than elementary school. “People who had been friends for years were suddenly not wanting to hang out with her anymore,” Mary said. “She was not called to go roller skating or go to the movies on Friday night. They pretended that it wasn’t because she was a dwarf. But she knew.” The athletics department gave her a varsity letter for being manager of the track team; she participated in student council and was elected treasurer of her class. Despite this, she was down to a couple of friends. “She’s a little lonely,” Mary said. “She’d have crushes on the boys at school, but eventually realized that average-size guys were not interested in going out with her. It was a big turning point when she started looking more at the hot guys at LPA.”

When I met Sam, she was in the throes of her first romance. She was fifteen going on sixteen, attractive and strikingly mature, and, at three feet nine inches, fairly short for a teenager with achondroplasia. Mary was optimistic about the future. “I would prefer for her to have an LP boyfriend or LP husband,” she said to me. “I think it’ll be easier for her. It’s kind of neat. I mean, you have a dwarf child. But it doesn’t just stop there; it goes on forever. We’re going to have, probably, a dwarf son-in-law, and dwarf grandchildren. What used to be an average-size family then becomes, when we’re gone, a dwarf family! And to think, if I’d known about this early in my pregnancy, I might have terminated.”

• • •

Writing in 1754, William Hay, a dwarf and the first notable memoirist of disability, described visiting a general: “I never was more humbled, than when I walked with him among his tall Men, made still taller by their Caps. I seemed to my self a Worm and no Man: and could not but inwardly grieve, that when I had the same Inclination to the Service of my Country and Prince, I wanted their Strength to perform it.” This feeling of inadequacy salted with the wish to transcend it has been a common narrative among dwarfs, but in the long pause between Hay’s dignified early account and the modern literature on the experience of being an LP, a grossness of prejudice has often quelled that dignity.

Woody Allen once quipped that dwarf is one of the four funniest words in the English language. To be in your very essence perceived as comical is a significant burden. When I described the other categories included in this book, my listeners were hushed by the seriousness of the enterprise; at the mention of dwarfs, friends burst into laughter. I would describe, for example, the time during a convention when a miscreant dwarf had made a bomb threat at 8:00 a.m., so that all hotel guests, most recovering from a night of intense partying, had to evacuate the building. People found hilarity in the mere idea of some five hundred sleepy dwarfs, many of them hungover, standing in the hotel’s forecourt. This had some resonance for me; I know that not so long ago, people might have found the idea of five hundred sleepy homosexuals similarly hilarious. But homosexuality can be hidden, and being among gay people is not a visual gag. Passersby who might avert their eyes tactfully from wheelchair users stare at dwarfs. A sighted woman who marries a blind man inspires admiration; an average-size woman who marries a dwarf inspires suspicion that she has a fetish. Dwarfs still appear in freak shows; in dwarf-tossing competitions; and in pornography, where a whole subgenre featuring dwarf sex exploits an objectifying voyeurism. This is testimony to a callousness beyond that shown to almost any other disabled group. Barbara Spiegel, now director of community outreach at LPA, described how her grandmother said, “You’re a beautiful girl, but no one’s going to marry you. You need to be able to do everything because you’re going to be alone.” Barbara’s stepmother complained about having to be seen on the street with her.

More than 80 percent of people with skeletal dysplasias—the primary dwarfing conditions, the most common among which is achondroplasia, resulting in shortened limbs, a large head, and an average trunk—are born to average parents with no history of dwarfism in their families, either because of de novo mutations or because both parents carry a recessive gene. Other forms of dwarfism include pituitary dwarfism, based on lack of human growth hormone, and psychosocial dwarfism, caused by severe physical abuse.

Parents are still dealing with a legacy of blame assigned to mothers. From medieval times into the eighteenth century, “monstrous births” were said to indicate the unfulfilled desires of lascivious women, whose obscene longings supposedly produced deformity. This theory, called Imaginationism, was hotly debated for hundreds of years. The Princeton historian Marie-Hélène Huet describes how “in the nineteenth century, discoveries in the fields of embryology and heredity provided scientists with new ways of explaining resemblances. But if the mother’s imagination was no longer perceived by the medical field to be a factor in resemblances, its role as the shaper of progeny was never totally forgotten.” John Mulliken, a pediatric surgeon, writes that every parent wants to know what he or she did to cause the situation. “In most cases, the answer is nothing. But every mother is blamed.”

Dwarfism is also often outside the experience of doctors with whom these parents initially interact, and parents frequently recall being told of the condition with particular insensitivity. Adelson recounts one doctor’s pronouncement to the parents of a newly diagnosed child—“You have given birth to a circus dwarf”—and another’s equally heartless recommendation that a child he had diagnosed should “be institutionalized or sent to live with a dwarf troupe in Florida.” One mother reported that most doctors acted as though her daughter were defective and therefore didn’t deserve to be treated like a “real” baby. Another described being in the delivery room with her dwarf husband when the doctor said to them both, “I regret to tell you that your child is a dwarf.”

Such behavior from a doctor is not merely a breach of etiquette; the way the news of a dwarfing condition is communicated to parents may have a lasting effect on their ability to love and care for their child. Mothers and fathers are helped by knowing right away that the child will have a full life span, that they did not cause the dwarfism through acts during pregnancy, and that their child can lead a happy, healthy, and independent life. Parents, in turn, influence friends and family; embarrassed parents create awkward friends. In addition to LPA, organizations such as the MAGIC Foundation and the Human Growth Foundation have fact-filled websites and sponsor both online chat rooms and local support groups, providing average-size parents of dwarf children opportunities to meet dwarfs who are living positive, fulfilling lives.

Nonetheless, many parents begin in sadness, denial, and shock. One dwarf, Ginny Sargent, wrote online, “No matter what we (as dwarfs) feel about how great it is to be alive, I still can’t help but wonder how much more pain (more than I) my mother was in when I was in discomfort . . . upset, hurt, or disheartened and beaten down by my uniqueness.”

Matt Roloff, former president of LPA and father on the popular television program Little People, Big World, said, “My parents didn’t wonder what I would like to do, what kind of woman I’d marry, or how many children I would have. They wondered what I could do for a living, if I could ever marry, and if I could have children.” He is now married to Amy, also a dwarf, and they have four children. Little People, Big World, which ran for almost four years on the Learning Channel, documented the Roloffs’ lives on their farm in Portland, Oregon. The show is somewhat voyeuristic but fairly clear of sensationalism, and it has helped to normalize perceptions of LPs.

Amy Roloff grew up in a household in which few accommodations were made for her. Friends who came to visit wondered why the phone was positioned where she needed to climb on a stool to reach it. “My mom said, ‘If Amy has to learn to adapt outside of the home, she might as well feel comfortable and learn to adapt within the home.’ Nothing was really tailored to my needs, and that was a good idea, ’cause I’m more independent.” The Roloffs have two average-height sons and one, Zach, with achondroplasia. Amy didn’t want to set up a house that suited the LPs in the family and felt foreign to the average kids, so she kept things “regular.” She encouraged Zach to be both proud of and nonchalant about his dwarfism. “He said one day, ‘Mom, we were playing and the kids were a little too rough.’ I said, ‘Zach, why don’t you be a little grateful that; perhaps, this was a moment where they don’t even think of you as a little person; they’re just hanging out and goofing around with you? That’s a good thing.’”

This equalizing spirit is extended to all of her children. Jeremy is the eldest and the tallest. “I have to remind Matt that we can’t take advantage of Jeremy because he’s tall. I don’t want him to think that he’s only good in the family ’cause he’s tall.” But even the New York Times, commenting on her children as they appear on TV, described Jeremy as “a gorgeous young athlete who manages the soccer ball with lazy grace,” and his brother Zachary as having “a clever and intense persona.” There’s nothing wrong with a clever and intense persona, but it’s interesting what different vocabulary comes up when the writer is describing, with kind intent, someone with a body that is not beautiful within the conventions of our larger society.
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Table of Contents

I Son 1

II Deaf 49

III Dwarfs 115

IV Down Syndrome 169

V Autism 221

VI Schizophrenia 295

VII Disability 355

VIII Prodigies 405

IX Rape 477

X Crime 537

XI Transgender 599

XII Father 677

Acknowledgments 703

Notes 707

Bibliography 831

Index 909

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 37 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 37 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    How do we raise children who are profoundly different than we ar

    How do we raise children who are profoundly different than we are?

    This is the question posed by award-winning writer Andrew Solomon in "Far From The Tree." How do parents deal with raising a child who isn't what they expected him or her to be? What if the child is autistic? Deaf? Has Down Syndrome? Or has dwarfism? And how much does nurture have to do with the people our children become? Or is it more due to nature, or genetics that are unchangeable?

    Solomon began writing this book twelve years ago, after attending a protest of deaf students who opened his eyes to seeing people with `differences' as not having disabilities, but having their own unique gifts. He follows the lives of many families who are faced with the challenge of raising children who are profoundly different than they expected them to be. Each of these stories reveals in their own way the nature of humanity, the unconditional love of parents for their children, and the desire for all humans to be valued as individuals.

    Don't get me wrong, though. Not all parents succeed at raising their children to excel and rise above any cultural prejudices. Some fail, but that is unfortunately the nature of life, I suppose. Combining the successes with failures adds to the completeness of this book.

    While putting the main focus on the families he describes in eloquent detail, Solomon also shines a spotlight on his own upbringing. The gay son of heterosexual parents, who was also dyslexic and bullied for not conforming to the stereotypical expectations of what a typical male should be, Solomon reveals how he overcame his insecurities to not only accept himself, but to decide to become a father.

    As a father myself, I found Solomon's stories moving, inspiring, and thought-provoking. At times I wondered whether I would have the inner strength of many of the parents in this book. I would like to think so.

    Reading this book made me think of two other exceptional books that also deal with unique parenting challenges. I highly recommend them as nice companions to Solomon's book.

    Anthony Youn's "In Stitche"s successfully spotlights the clash that occurs when immigrant, old-school parents raise a child in today's America. How do children react when their parents push them excessively, causing them to become social outcasts? Youn's struggle to deal with his parents' expectations and being the only ethnic minority in his entire town, are at times humorous, moving, and inspiring. It has shades of the controversial book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", but is a much more entertaining and empathetic read.

    "Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety" is a memoir I recently discovered from Daniel Smith, a person challenged with severe anxiety issues all his life. Smith details his sometimes funny but always revealing methods he used to deal with anxiety, both as a child and in adulthood. His mother and their relationship is also a big part of his story. I enjoyed this one.

    15 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2013

    Not a light read, but really really good

    This is an intense book. Not light bedtime reading. Very interesting and informative. It is both scientific and entertaining, which is a difficult combination to achieve. Every night I go to bed thinking about what I have just read. Really glad I found this and would definitely recommend it.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 10, 2012

    This is a book for any parent, grandparent or family member of a special child

    Huge amounts of research, interviews that looked at both sides of raising a child withlife altering "issues".... The first issue was deafness which resinated with me because I am deaf. Solomon looked at all the difficult choices parents have to make as well as the impact of a deaf child on hearing and deaf parents. He also looked at the pain and exhaustion having a special child brings to parents often ill prepared. He is able to present both hero parents as well as those who struggle without giving an opinion about who is right. Since I work in mental health I was interested in his presentation of how the parents of transgendered respond to the loss of their sons to daughters. This is a big book and its expensive but well written and thoughtfully done.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2012

    Extremely interesting and well-written. Captivating!

    After seeing the author profiled on the CBS Sunday Morning Show I figured such a talented speaker would produce a wonderful written account of the topic at hand. He certainly has accomplished that here!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2013

    This is an absorbing, thought-provoking, sometimes heart-breakin

    This is an absorbing, thought-provoking, sometimes heart-breaking book that combines riveting personal stories with apparently well-researched facts. Not only parents of exceptional children, but all parents, can identify with and learn from it. I have been reading it slowly over the last month or so. It becomes too overwhelming to read for very long sessions, but I am regularly drawn back into it and am always left with new ideas to mull over.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2013

    read if you only want one side of the story

    I found this book very unsettling. You possibly would like it if you come from the same perspective or opinion as the author. I found the research to be outdated and the interviews he selected were of his same bias. There is so much to the story. I am speaking on the "Deaf" chapter. He evidently has not done his homework outside of the Deaf culture (which of course deserves to be celebrated) because there are some amazing stories for deaf and hard of hearing kids who are communicating through spoken language that also deserve to be celebrated. He told none of those stories. Not an accurate picture in my opinion. Very misleading.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 5, 2013

    A worthwhile read, after the first chapter. So he's gay. Who c

    A worthwhile read, after the first chapter. So he's gay. Who cares? In spite of the national debate, it really makes no difference.




    Subsequent chapters are much baet

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2013

    very provocative book

    i have not finished this book yet, but i have read 4 chapters and find it riveting. sometimes it gets a little bogged down in details, but that shows the depth and scope of his research. overall, the book is a new and unique perspective on things you thought you knew. i find myself thinking about the book a lot - and looking at things differently.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2013

    Not So Much

    Disappointed! I thought it would be more of a personal story format! This reads a little too text bookish to me.

    1 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2014

    Swetlily

    Tasted the air. "I smell.....finch!"tackled him laughing

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 26, 2013

    Good Info for Today's World

    Mr. Solomon gives us a personal view of people we seem to stereotype, whether we are aware of it or not. His insights and stories of dwarves, the deaf, autistic, etc. will broaden your knowledge and make you sympathetic to what its like from their viewpoint (if we can know it). And the book is easy to read. Good researched info interspersed with stories of those that have been there made the reading just flow. Frankly,I did not identify with most of stories as there was no personal link I was researching. I read it because it sounded interesting and because I want to know about different aspects of life on this Earth. Here certainly was a sampling. The author speaks for a those living under certain labels and does it well.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2013

    I first saw Andrew Solomon recently onThe Colbert Report and he

    I first saw Andrew Solomon recently onThe Colbert Report and he sounded so interesting, intelligent and also humorous and the ideas he proposed sounded so interesting that I decided to get this book from our local library to read bore investing the $.  I didn't realize that it was so 'hefty'--over 900 pages (but  the Index and Appendix are 250+ pages) but it was such a worthwhile read that I'm now going to purchase the book in hardcover.  While I don't necessarily agree with all his opinions or suppositions, I think things were presented rationally and in an interesting manner.  As in life, things are not necessarily all black or white but in varying shades of gray.I appreciated many things about Mr. Solomon's writings--he didn't preach or demean his interviewees or his readers;   I really enjoyed the many excerpts of interviews--the HUMAN element of each chapter;  how moving, inspiring and thought-provoking the stories were; and finally the long-term commitment Mr. Solomon made to this book.  I want my own copy of his book so I can highlight those passages that really resonated with  me.  I think that my daughter (who is in the midst of child-bearing age) and my son (who has Bipolar Disorder) to read it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2013

    One of The Best Book I Have Read

    I honestly think that we can all supersede the meager expectations people have from us.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2013

    Although huge, it is so worth the read. Very interesting!

    I'm sorry i was so busy reading the book.I forgot to rate my purchase, my bad. First time I ever took advantage of a deal online. I did, it worked and I love how quickly, in time, in great condition and WHAT a great deal it turned out to be. I would and probably will do it again. Thank you for turning my doubt into a wonderful experience. One can still get something fabulous for less otherwise. Thanks for allowing me a great present to myself that turned out to be guilt-free!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2012

    V

    TreeClan territory.

    Barkstar

    0 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 37 Customer Reviews

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