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Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help…

Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to… (edition 2013)

by John Schwartz (Author)

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1421784,396 (3.54)8
Title:Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality
Authors:John Schwartz (Author)
Info:Avery (2013), Edition: Reprint, 320 pages
Collections:Parent Resources, Your library

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



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Simply put, this book tells us how these clearly amazing parents tried desperately to help their son and understand him. A model of what parents should be: an advocate for their children!
I was immensely moved, humbled and humored by this book. A great read all around and so informative! The authors journalistic background definitely shines as he divulges facts and reports and statistics! This is not a book based on bias. It's a book based on love, and backed up with research.
For any parent struggling to understand or accept their child or some part, read this book! ( )
  Kiddboyblue | Aug 23, 2015 |
Hard to describe why, but this just wasn't as interesting as it could have been. ( )
  cherilove | Apr 17, 2014 |
4.5 stars

I've been wanting to read this book since I first heard about it back in November. I couldn't really explain why, memoirs aren't something I typically read. But this interested me. I'll say that it was a little less than I hoped, but still quite good, though I do have some qualifications.

Having read some other reviews of the book now that I've finished it, I suspect that appreciating what is here depends to some degree on the reader's expectations going in. John Schwartz interweaves his own experience with reporting on LGBT issues here. And make no mistake, this is John Schwartz's story, not his son Joseph's. Like a lot of other readers, I have no doubt, I often wished for a deeper look, a glimpse into Joseph's mind, to understand what he saw, felt, experienced. But this isn't a novel, and we're talking about a real child here, fifteen to sixteen years old when this book was being written, and I would never expect or ask any teenager to put his inner self on public display just to satisfy my curiosity. Let him decide for himself what he wants to expose later, on his own terms. So while this book is in many ways about Joseph, it's John's story.

Some reviewers commented that they found the presentation dry. I didn't have any particular issue with the way it's written. John Schwartz is a journalist, and he writes like a journalist. If you're expecting the author to play upon your heartstrings with a novelist's tricks, then you will be disappointed. The writing is matter of fact, calm, but his concern for his son comes through clearly.

The book begins with a foreward. The foreward begins with John Schwartz receiving a call from his wife, telling him Joseph, thirteen years old, has attempted suicide. After a few pages in which Schwartz explains what he's decided to write and why he's decided to write about it, chapter one begins with Joseph's birth. Interweaving some reporting on gay issues, the book slowly works its way forward in time to the suicide attempt, the aftermath and the next couple years.

My biggest problem with the book was in chapter one. Joseph's parents suspected he was gay early on. He was, apparently, stereotypically more interested in girl's toys, pink things, and prettiness. Now, perhaps Schwartz the father chose his words deliberately, perhaps he's trying to emphasize the obviousness of the signs, or perhaps he's honestly reporting his own language of the time, but despite some advice he receives later from a member of the League of Gay Uncles about the problems around conflating 'homosexual' and 'effeminate', when Schwartz goes through a list of clues to his toddler child's sexual orientation, he talks about him having a 'lilt', and uses words like 'sassy', 'fabulous', and 'girly'. I can't help but hear echoes of mockery, because words like these have been used to mock gays to imply they're somehow less than men for exhibiting traits of 'the lesser' sex. I don't think Schwartz means to do it, and he talks about how they'd made a deliberate attempt to avoid imposing gender roles with their earlier children. But I think the fact that we have a father using these sorts of words in reference to his son bothers me in a way that it would not were they delivered as the taunts of other children. Fortunately that talk doesn't really continue beyond chapter one to any bothersome degree, though the equating of homosexual to effeminate seems to persist.

The book spends a lot of time documenting John and Jeanne's struggles with the school and Joseph's response to the different styles of his teachers. I found this particularly interesting as I could identify with Joseph in a number of ways and seeing a parent side view of that struggle was new for me. Joseph was a very bright child, with some physical coordination issues, (sports and writing were problems), and their struggle with the schools is largely one of attempting to get the schools to accomodate his needs while resisting attempts by teachers to classify him in ways they felt not only didn't fit, but would limit Joseph's future options. As the teachers diagnosis and even the psychologists frequently disagreed, this seems like a reasonable course. I won't detail the issues, but there was an amusing example of Joseph's critique of Where the Red Fern Grows.

With the exception of the chapter that largely deals with the gay marriage question, which is old news to anyone who's been paying attention, the issues raised in the reporting sections of the book are fairly interesting. There's a discussion of "minority stress" that's informative, as well as the discussions on whether they should push Joseph to come out once they're certain he's gay and believe his hiding the fact is contributing to his stress and issues at school. Coincidentally, today, there was a letter making the rounds on facebook and other places that ties in.


The text as follows:

I overheard your phone conversation with Mike last night about your plans to come out to me. The only thing I need you to plan is to bring home OJ and bread after class. We are out, like you now.
I've known you were gay since you were six. I've loved you since you were born.
P.S. Your mom and I think you and Mike make a cute couple.

Reactions to this note I've seen have all been generally positive. But as it happens, this is pretty much exactly the sort of thing Schwartz's gay friends had been telling him not to do. They tell him not to step on his son's moment. Not to be clever. Essentially don't steal his moment and make it an opportunity for you look smart and funny, but to let "your son say this on his own terms and at the moment of his own choosing."

Now I know for some kids having the parent make a preemptive strike, to remove the fear and stress might be more than welcome. And yeah, that letter is funny. But at the same time, he's learned his son is about to do something which takes a lot of courage, and he's just stollen that moment from him. That's kind of selfish. I won't tell you what Schwartz does. Read the book for yourself.

In any case, issues like that are given a fairly balanced treatment in this book and I liked that about it. There's a particularly nice message near the end from a researcher who's probably not the favorite of a lot of LGBT advocates. I think Schwartz's journalistic background serves him well here, as he recognizes these are complex issues and there isn't a one size fits all answer. As I said, there are issues with the book, but overall I think it's quite good and accomplishes what Schwartz set out to do. Recommended.
( )
  WeaselBox | Mar 23, 2014 |
Interesting story of empathic parents helping a not-well-adjusted child come to terms with his homosexuality. Too much detail about things that didn't add to the story. While the parents were terribly concerned about their child, it seems to me they expected too much for the school to provide. The school did have a psychologist on staff which I find outrageous. In these days of inadequate funding for big city schools that this elite suburban public school should provide such services at a big expense is somewhat inappropriate. ( )
  SigmundFraud | Oct 15, 2013 |
Sometimes as I read through reviews I find someone has written pretty much exactly what I would have. And then I think, how the hell do I write this without looking like I'm stealing their words? The answer, of course, is to steal the whole thing:


1. The efforts of John and Jeanne Schwartz to be advocates for their youngest son and to figure out and fight with the maze of school bureaucracy to make that happen was the best part of the book. There are lessons here for any parent, especially the parent of a special needs child or a child whose differences make it difficult to adapt to the stress and expectations of public schools.

2. Sections of the book citing research or current events were a bit ponderous and iffy to me. The author didn't include enough information or bibliography to chase down the subject, but the way it was presented was dry and factual enough to detract from the more personal story of their family and the issues they face. I also think they will make the story feel unnecessarily dated in a few years. John Schwartz did do a great job of pointing out the uncertainty and the confusion that parents (or anyone else) faces when trying to weigh all the competing data and conflicting studies on the subject.

3. I had a lot of difficulty reconciling the Schwartzes assertion that most of Joseph's difficulties with school and socialization were caused by his being gay, when their descriptions of his behavior made it sound like being gay compounded his other problems, rather than being the underlying cause. ( )
  AKate | Sep 24, 2013 |
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A heartfelt memoir by the father of a gay teen, and an eye-opening guide 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 suicide attempt. Mustering the courage to come out to his classmates, Joe's disclosure--delivered in a tirade about homophobic attitudes--was greeted with unease and confusion by his fellow students. Hours later, he took an overdose of pills. In the aftermath, John and his wife, Jeanne, determined to help Joe feel more comfortable in his own skin, launched a search for services and groups that could help Joe understand that he wasn't alone. This book is Schwartz's very personal attempt to address his family's struggles within a culture that is changing fast, but not fast enough to help gay kids like Joe.--From publisher description.… (more)

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