Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality

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A heartfelt memoir by the father of a gay teen, and an eye-opening story for families who hope to bring up well-adjusted gay adults.

Three years ago, John Schwartz, a national correspondent at The New York Times, got the call that every parent hopes never to receive: his thirteen-year-old son, Joe, was in the hospital following a failed suicide attempt. After mustering the courage to come out to his classmates, Joe’s disclosure — delivered in a tirade about homophobic ...

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Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality

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Overview

A heartfelt memoir by the father of a gay teen, and an eye-opening story for families who hope to bring up well-adjusted gay adults.

Three years ago, John Schwartz, a national correspondent at The New York Times, got the call that every parent hopes never to receive: his thirteen-year-old son, Joe, was in the hospital following a failed suicide attempt. After mustering the courage to come out to his classmates, Joe’s disclosure — delivered in a tirade about homophobic attitudes—was greeted with dismay and confusion by his fellow students. Hours later, he took an overdose of pills.
 
Additionally, John and his wife, Jeanne, found that their son’s school was unable to address Joe’s special needs. Angry and frustrated, they initiated their own search for services and groups that could help Joe understand that he wasn’t alone. Oddly Normal is Schwartz’s very personal attempt to address his family’s own struggles within a culture that is changing fast, but not fast enough to help gay kids like Joe.

Schwartz follows Joseph through childhood to the present day, interweaving his narrative with common questions, including: Are effeminate boys and tomboy girls necessarily gay? Is there a relationship between being gay and suicide or mental illness? Should a child be pushed into coming out? Parents, teachers, and counselors alike will welcome Oddly Normal and its crucial lessons about helping gay kids –and any kid who is different — learn how to cope in a potentially hostile world.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
…a deeply affecting account of Joe's learning to embrace his sexuality, as well as his parents' efforts to shield him from homophobia and help him endure a school system that continues to marginalize (and even pathologize) kids who need special understanding…the star of the book is Joe. It's impossible not to fall in love with a kid who, even amid his torment, displays such droll humor and fierce intelligence.
—David Sheff
The New York Times
…a whimsical take on the subject…The text, translated from the original German, has awkward moments, but it gets the easy vernacular of childhood play just right…Tolman places her delicate miniature figures in vast, sweeping landscapes on the border between magic and reality, with imagined sheep and lambs and a fox and bunnies gathering and parading alongside the very real figures of Kelly and Franklin.
—Pamela Paul
Publishers Weekly
In this moving account of a family’s journey to raise and protect their gay son, New York Times correspondent Schwartz begins with his son Joe’s suicide attempt, discovering afterwards that his son had come out to his classmates that afternoon. Joe’s parents had always suspected the youngest of their three children might be gay, playing with dolls and wearing pink lightup shoes, but he had only coyly revealed his sexuality to his parents a week before his suicide attempt. With an unusual condition therapists variously diagnosed over the years as Asperger’s, bi-polar, ADHD, among others, school was always a challenge for Joe. With the growing awareness of his sexuality, however, came increasing sensitivity to fellow students’ homophobic slurs and taunts, as well as a growing realization that he was “different” and even that there was something possibly wrong with him. Schwartz recounts in sometimes painful detail his and his wife’s difficulties in getting Joe the help he so desperately needed, from working with school officials on appropriate ways of dealing with Joe when his condition overwhelmed him, to joining the Youth Enrichment Services at the Gay Center. With the new support, Joe thrived. Equally humorous and heartrending, this memoir reveals just what it takes to raise children who are different in a world still resistant. Agent: Rafe Sagalyn. (Nov.)
Library Journal
A national correspondent with the New York Times, Schwartz faced a terrible tragedy three years ago when his 13-year-old son attempted suicide after coming out to his classmates. Frustrated by the school's inability to help a student who didn't fit the mold, he and his wife sought out organizations that could help Joe realize that he wasn't alone or freakish. Here's an account of their experiences, clearly as much a parental guide as a memoir.
Kirkus Reviews
A family's memoir of raising a gay son. New York Times national correspondent Schwartz (Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall At All, 2010) enlightens readers on the difficulties he and his wife faced while trying to help their son, Joe, accept his homosexuality. From a very early age, Schwartz and his wife suspected Joe might be gay, noting some telltale signs: the desire to play with Barbie dolls, the need for a pink feather boa and pink light-up shoes, the love of glitter and costume jewelry and the lack of interest in sports. However, because they had raised all three of their children in a gender-neutral environment, with dolls, action figures and trucks available to both their older son and daughter, they simply assumed Joe was just different. When Joe started school, though, behavioral problems developed. Because he was an avid reader at an early age, his parents suspected boredom; Joe's teachers suspected mental issues and suggested therapy. Numerous therapists later, with diagnoses that included ADHD, autism and Asperger's, Schwartz and his family were still no closer to understanding what made Joe different from his siblings and peers--and no one suggested homosexuality as a possible explanation for Joe's mood swings, anger and sullenness. Thanks to Internet research, the coming-out of TV personalities and new acceptance and legislation for homosexuals, the author was able to provide Joe with a safe home environment for him to reveal his "secret." It was only when Joe divulged his natural tendencies at school that disaster struck in the form of rejection, resulting in a life-altering situation for the entire family. Definitely defined as "not a self-help book," Schwartz's frank discussion of a subject many still find taboo will be helpful to parents of LGBT children as one example of how to accept a natural condition with dignity and love. An added bonus is the delightful story written and illustrated by Joe. An honest, earnest, straightforward account of one boy's coming out.
Library Journal
03/01/2014
New York Times correspondent Schwartz's memoir begins with his son Joe's suicide attempt after coming out at school. He traces his son's development as a "different" child and relates how he made sure Joe got the help he needed. A bonus: Joe's own charmingly illustrated story. (LJ 6/15/12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592407286
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/8/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.48 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

John Schwartz is a national correspondent with the New York Times, where he covers law, science, technology, business and a broad range of other topics. Prior to that, he worked at the Washington Post and Newsweek and his writing has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, GQ, Texas Monthly and other publications.  He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and University of Texas Law School. He currently lives in New Jersey with his college sweetheart, Jeanne Mixon. They have three children and two difficult cats.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2013

    Couldn't Put It Down

    What an incredibly frank memoir! It not only deals openly with this family's emotions but also with the difficulties of facing the resistance of school teachers and leaders in addressing this child's needs. As a former educator, I found this quite profound and, frankly, an honest assessment. Overall, Mr. Schwartz is to be commended for this forthright memoir although I found the reporting of so much statistical information to be a distraction. Kudos, also, to Joe Schwartz for allowing readers to share his journey which can only serve to help many readers.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 2, 2013

    The peerless skill of a first-rate New York Times investigative

    The peerless skill of a first-rate New York Times investigative reporter combined with the compassion, commitment, empathy and advocacy of two fine parents, has created a moving account of a family raising a gay child, and probably the most exhaustively researched history of gay parenting ever written. Although John Schwartz set out to write a memoir to help others, he achieved much more. Oddly Normal is as emotionally moving as a Hollywood tearjerker and as assiduously researched as a lead story in the New York Times. Few writers posses the rare combination of being able to speak from the heart while simultaneously investigating and reporting, but in this engaging, informative and engrossing memoir, Schwartz accomplishes both. Almost any parent will empathize with the challenges the Schwartz's experienced with their son's elementary school, and researchers, advocates and anyone desiring to be well informed will savor the logically written and thoroughly researched facts. Oddly Normal deftly transitions from heart stirring accounts of life raising a challenging child to the history, facts and current legal and social status of what it means to grow up gay in 21st century America. Most importantly, Oddly Normal offers hope that our society is moving toward a better future for gays and straights alike. Brilliantly written and meticulously researched this is a memoir that informs as much as it captivates.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2013

    Disappointed

    Wanted more of the family's emotional struggle, but the book seemed like more of a resource than a story.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 4, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    A very moving story about a gay teen through the eyes of his fat

    A very moving story about a gay teen through the eyes of his father. Very moving.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 28, 2012

    This book is absolutely heart felt and I'm more than sure anybod

    This book is absolutely heart felt and I'm more than sure anybody would love it. It's absolutely great!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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

    Posted November 21, 2012

    Entertaining, Informing, and Touching

    Schwartz is funny and smart, masterfully combining informative writing with narrative.

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

    Posted December 13, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted November 17, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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