The author of this long, compassionate and often startling treatise on identity interviewed over three hundred families to elicit stories about raising exceptional children, stories that also come from these exceptional children ('exceptional' is the term chosen to describe the children in the author's material about the book).

'Far From The Tree' explores the challenges children face in being raised in families where one prominent feature in their identity is forged by something out of their parents' control and generally not part of the family's experience until then. These identities are not 'vertical' (passed down from generations of parents to their children), but 'horizontal', springing up between those who share in that identity at any one time. Solomon begins by wondering about his own relationship with his parents when he was a child discovering his sexuality and ends with his own role as a father, 'the terrifying joy of unbearable responsibility' (702); between the two poles of his own experience, he meets parents and children who have experienced deafness, dwarfism, autism, schizophrenia, severe physical disabilities and diverse gender identities, prodigies, children who were concieved by rape and children who became criminal.  


This compassionate book has a compelling, humanistic urgency that comes from articulating the importance and power of family love in a world of bigotries, cruelties, indifference and pity; and yet Solomon does this without being sentimental about family conflict and without shying away from the realities of disappointment, hurt, despair, frustration and ambivalence. That it should traffic in all these human emotions, and do so across so many topics (see, for example, the number of tags this book has earned in the database), explains its length; Solomon's skill at telling stories and representing vividly the families' lives is what justifies the length.

The book raises fundamental questions of parenting: who is this other person? How are they mine, and how are they not? In discussing differences that provoke these questions (and make the answers much more complicated), Solomon chooses some of the most fraught differences; some are fraught because they are so visibly and socially obvious (dwarfism, autism), others because though they may be 'concealed' are cloaked in moral meaning (sexuality, rape, criminality).

Solomon brings an enormous integrity to the project, giving generous time to the multiple diverse political orientations that spring up around these notoriously complex social issues, including Little People of America conventions and Mad Pride. The compassion he speaks of in families develops over time (and can inspire a compassion in others), but he also addresses specific medical interventions, many of which involve choices that cannot be made over years (pre-natal testing and gender-related surgery).  The book speaks of progress and hope, but it has an urgency because it is so relevant to those who are seeking to 'help' horizontally-identified individuals. For caregivers, physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists, advocates, politicians, the police, all the different people in positions of power (positions that often exclude these horizontally-identified groups, overtly or implicitly), the question raised by Solomon is: what does 'help' mean? He is not shy of providing answers, but it becomes apparent that a failure to ask that question dooms many forms of 'help' from the start.



Place Published

New York



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