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Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality Hardcover – November 8, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.)



“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.”
Kirkus Reviews

“[A] moving account of a family’s journey to raise and protect their gay son… Equally humorous and heartrending, this memoir reveals just what it takes to raise children who are different in a world still resistant.”
Publishers Weekly

“John Schwartz and Jeanne Mixon are the heroes of Oddly Normal.  Still, 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.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Schwartz writes a poignant and well-documented account of what it meant to be a father who had tried all he could to make his son feel comfortable, but still came terrifyingly close to losing him.”
The Daily Texan

“An inspiring story, and much needed at a time when so many others end tragically.”

Oddly Normal chronicles the Schwartz family’s mistakes, heartaches and triumphs in raising a child coming to grips with his sexuality.”
Mother Jones Magazine

Oddly Normal is a funny, touching and indispensible book. Moving as well as buoyant, it will give parents of gay children a great deal of hope.”
—Gary Shteyngart, New York Times bestselling author of Super Sad True Love Story

“John Schwartz has written a moving and important memoir about the challenges that even the most enlightened parents face when bringing up a gay son. Combining personal experiences with rigorous reporting, Oddly Normal will be tremendously useful to anyone raising a child perceived as different.”
—Charles Kaiser, author of The Gay Metropolis

“John Schwartz shares his family’s bumpy journey with humor, a journalist’s eye for detail, and a generous honesty of emotion.”
—Jennifer Pizer, Senior Counsel and Director of the Law and Policy Project at Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund

Oddly Normal is a book for parents, teachers, and anyone who works with children. Mr. Schwartz illustrates how even the most accepting parents often need assistance staying engaged, to best help a child who is not fitting in—in fact, there is a little bit of Joseph Schwartz in every kid.”
—Joseph Clementi, founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation
“Jeanne and John Schwartz are inspiring parental role models, and I’m sure I’ll think of them often…”
“Schwartz, an ace reporter for the New York Times, peppers his emotional response with vital research and telling anecdotes.”

“Schwartz's memoir is brave and beautiful, surprising and inspiring, a testament to parents' endless determination to help their children, and the bottomless capacity for love.”
“[A] very personal, touching, funny and frank memoir. Anyone with a teenager, gay or straight, will be able to relate to a parent's struggle when dealing with their troubled child.”
—USATODAY.com --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham (November 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592407285
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592407286
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #717,191 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book succeeded on several levels. First and foremost, it's engaging and well written. I started with the Kindle sample, bought it immediately, and finished it in one setting. I think this will appeal to any parents who have watched their children struggle with being different, those who work in the education system, and people specifically interested in topics of sexuality and developing identity.

I was struck by the honesty of the author in telling his family's story. I wouldn't recommend reading this book in public like I did, because I teared up several times. The book is powerful in its truth and relatability. Even if you haven't been in this family's exact situation, anyone who grew up different or watched a child grow up different will resonate with the author's words.

In the book, the author interweaves his family's personal experience with research on sexual orientation with mixed results. The research touches upon historical, psychological, and legal domains. Sometimes the sudden rush of research jolted me out of the narrative, but it did deepen the educational quality of the book.

If you're familiar with the research on this topic, those aspects of the book are easily skimmed. The real worth comes from the family's narrative, especially the author's honesty about their failures as well as successes. For parents who need to advocate for their child in an education system, the experiences of the Schwartzs provide a helpful guide for what to do, and not do. Schwartz also acts as a voice of grace towards parents who "miss the signs". His own reflections on how it happened normalizes how hard it is for parents to know everything that's going on with their kid.

I liked that the author drew upon several voices to tell this story.
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Format: Hardcover
Full disclosure: I appear very briefly in the first few pages of the book as a college freshman, Jeanne's former boyfriend. I'm dealt with graciously -- perhaps too graciously -- so anyone reading this very positive review may find reason to dismiss me as biased for that reason. I'm alert, I think, to where my biases are, though, and so I don't think my review is biased for that reason, or even biased by the fact that I've known John Schwartz and Jeanne Mixon for 35-40 years, depending on how you count. They are my friends, and among my very best friends. And I know their older two children reasonably well, although I don't know Joe Schwartz from anything but this book.

Still, I don't write reviews for every friend who writes a book. I feel compelled to write one for this one, though, because of one bias I will admit to -- I strongly admire, and strive to emulate, loving parents who commit themselves to being advocates for their children, who commit themselves further to learning everything they can about how to be an effective advocate.

*If I were teaching a class about how to be as good a parent as one could be, I would put this book first on the reading list.* It's that good.

What makes it good? I'll list a few things: First, it has been designed and written by a very good reporter with a good reporter's insistence on getting the facts right and treating the facts fairly. In this respect, the closest book that comes to mind when I read ODDLY NORMAL is David Carr's THE NIGHT OF THE GUN, in which the author uses his journalistic skills to document a tough period in his own life.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a brave and big-hearted book, one that could well be a life raft for any family coping with the experience detailed here -- lovingly raising a child who, in the eyes of conventional society, is "different."
But it would be a tragedy if "Oddly Normal" did not reach a much larger audience -- the vast population of people who help create the society that presents such obstacles to people like Joe Schwartz and his parents.
Wise people know that abolition frees both the slave and the master. Similarly, tolerance liberates both the bully and his target. And this book is a moving manifesto for tolerance, one that will enrich anyone who reads it -- and everyone should read it.
A universal truth of human society is that there is a constant tension between the security of "fitting in" and the adventure of "standing out." It takes different forms -- fitting into a gang culture or standing out as a scholar; fitting into a loving traditional family role or standing out through some demanding role outside the home; fitting into a supportive office society or standing out by being ambitious. Or, of course, fitting in by conforming to some middle-school notion of "a normal boy" or standing out by being oddly normal, whether that means being gay or a chess prodigy or a precocious reader or a klutz at sports.
This is a book for everyone who has wrestled with that "fitting in/standing out" tension or tried to help others in that struggle. In short, a book for all of us.
You can disregard any canard about "exploitation." The author makes it clear that this book would never have been written if young Joe, its hero, had not wanted his father to write it -- indeed, he helped his father to write it.
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