Nearly 300,000 books are published each year in the U.S. alone. Most are quick reads meant for entertainment or to present a single thought. But there always is a handful of books that rise to the top with in-depth, provocative content and message. Far From the Tree is one of these books.

Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon presents perspectives from parents of children unlike themselves. There are stories from parents of exceptional children and ones with Down syndrome, dwarfism and severe autism as well as children who are the product of rape and others who grow up to commit violent crimes.

The stories are honest and sometimes uncomfortable to read, but I have to say that they also opened my eyes and heart to the issues these people face. I have a new respect for parents whose daily responsibilities and decisions are often life-altering, such as ones who must decide if is it right to subject a child with dwarfism to years of painful surgeries if it could result in lengthening their legs by a couple of inches. The decision may allow the child better opportunities in the future but at the loss of their childhood and at great suffering.

Far From the Tree is definitely one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve ever read. In addition to dozens of sub-questions, the main question that runs throughout the book is exactly what is “normal” and to what extent should a society push for children to conform to that norm. Is the pain and sacrifice to get to “normal” necessary or even ethical?

Far From the Tree is well-written and researched. I had to put it down for periods of time because of its length (976 pages), and more so because of the heavy topic, but it kept drawing me back for more. If you are up to delving into these issues, I highly recommend the book. I guarantee it will raise your awareness to life-situations and challenges most of us never consider.

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

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