Ordinary People
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Ordinary People

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  11,708 ratings  ·  558 reviews

The Jarrets are a typical American family. Calvin is a determined, successful provider and Beth an organized, efficient wife. They had two sons, Conrad and Buck, but now they have one. In this memorable, moving novel, Judith Guest takes the reader into their lives to share their misunderstandings, pain...and ultimate healing.

Paperback, 263 pages
Published October 28th 1982 by Penguin Books (first published 1976)
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This book was first recommended to me by my high school English teacher. I had just read Lord of the Flies, and she could tell I needed something to restore my faith in humanity. This book is incredible!

It is a real, unflinchingly honest look at life and all of the horrible things that happen. It is also a reminder of the reasons that life is still worth living in spite of those horrible things.
It is one thing to read a book written by a contemporary author, set in the not-too-distant past; it is another entirely to read one written in and completely of its time. To read Ordinary People is to step through the looking glass into the sweetly familiar terrain of mid-1970s. But beneath the surface details is a book of timeless themes and incomparable elegance.

As a fan of the 1980 movie, I could hear the voices of the actors as I read the dialogue: Mary Tyler Moore's controlled high-pitche...more
Lisa Vegan
Jun 28, 2007 Lisa Vegan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who enjoy fiction abot adolescents & families
Shelves: fiction, reviewed, novel
Very psychologically astute book about a family and what happens to the parents and younger son after the older son dies in an accident. Good character development and it's well written. I really felt for the surviving son and I really liked his psychiatrist as well. (And this is one of the few times I can say that, even though I read the book first, I enjoyed the movie as well.)
Katelyn Beaty
Judith Guest's Ordinary People explores a topic so familiar to us that I'm not sure she succeeds at breaking any molds. But due to my ignorance, perhaps she's one of the writers who set the mold in the first place. If this is true, then we have Guest to thank for telling the story of the private grief of three members of one family, all trying to deal with the loss of another member in disparate ways. So disparate is their grief that it drives the members apart from one another, instead of bring...more
Books like Ordinary People are why I read.

This is the first book I've read on the subject of depression that isn't written as a memoir, from a clinical stand point, or with the intention of "self-help". With that said, Ordinary People was the most concise version of depression I've ever seen. Judith Guest has to have had first-hand experience with depression or else she needs to get out of my head. There is so much comfort in seeing your own inexplicable emotions laid out before you page after p...more
For the first couple chapters of this book, I was rather confused and repelled by Guest's writing style. The EXTREME stream of consciousness is rather intrusive to first-time readers. Conrad and Calvin's struggles, though revealed at painstakingly slow rates, made me have to read more and more and more. When the true conflict is actually revealed, there was a new appreciation for the writing style. All I wanted was to get MORE into the characters' heads! By the end of the book, I not only felt k...more
This book, for me, represents the pinnacle of a 'literary' book that captures real life so effectively that it is entirely banal. Granted, making something both realistic and interesting is one of the greatest challenges any author faces. Whether through dialogue, plot structure, or motivation, it is always more difficult to write a book that seems at once 'real', but does not fall into the 'truth is stranger than fiction' valley of attempted realism.

Modern authors of this vein (i.e. Salinger) b...more
Phil Williams
This was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid (yes, I have always been in love with sadness) and I don't know why it took me so long to read the book. I am glad I finally have though because not only is it a beautiful story about a family who can not forgive itself, but wonderfully written as well. Judith Guest has a way of choosing just the right sentiments to allow the words to flow like oil over the pages and make you hope the son Conrad might finally be happy. Wonderful book. Great way...more
I read this book my senior year in high school. I picked it up off of my dad's bookshelf. I have since reread it and it remains one of my favorites. The family and friendship dynamics are good and the themes are universal. There is an honesty about all things (including depression and relationships) that the main character has that is striking. It could be a fairly quick read, but I still feel that it has a lasting impact.

The movie, to me, is not as good as the book. I almost always think that t...more
Stephanie A. Higa
Dec 27, 2007 Stephanie A. Higa rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who are emo
This book is told entirely in present tense, which is a dangerous choice unless you're a very good writer. Fortunately, Judith Guest is a very good writer. She gets right into Calvin and Conrad Jarrett's troubled minds (the wife/mother, Beth, remains elusive). It's also an easy, light read. Unfortunately, the story itself is just too depressing, and there were many aspects of the Jarretts' lives that piqued my curiosity but were never developed beyond a few spare references here and there.
A deeply moving, thoughtful book, Ordinary People takes a brutally close look at the dynamics of a family coping with the loss of a child. Conrad, the surviving child, struggles with his own guilt and pain by attempting suicide and has just been released from a mental hospital. Calvin, the father, feels as if he has let down both his sons and suddenly feels uncertain, reeling from the fact that he could not protect his own family. Finally, there is Beth, the mother, who comes across as cold and...more
I liked this book. I hated the mom.
Jamie Fessenden
My first experience with present tense narrative, which took some adjusting to, this book had a tremendous impact on me, inspiring me to write the first (somewhat derivative) short story I ever entered into a competition. This is a powerful story with very memorable characters.

UPDATE: I reread this novel, after not having read it since I was a teenager. It holds up well over time. But I noticed that the novel is told entirely from the viewpoints of Conrad and Calvin (his father). We never fully...more
The first time that I read this, it was from a torn, ratty looking paperback book that I bought at a cheap book fair,it was missing a page here and there (including the last page),and I didn't really like it. I thought that Conrad needed to man up and get over wallowing in his sadness, I thought that the mom was one of the cruelest characters in any novel I had ever read, and I got a little too touchy about some of the language Judith Guest used in the novel. I realize that this sounds a little...more
The novel “Ordinary People” by Judith Guest is a captivating story that follows the lives of the three remaining Jarrett family members after the tragic death of their eldest son, Buck. Personally, I quite enjoyed this book, despite the fact that it can be very gloomy at times. I liked the fact that it brought to light the struggles that many seemingly “ordinary” people go through. It was an emotional rollercoaster and very hard to put down. I think the book got better and better as the story pr...more
Shanna Dunlap
I'm sure this story is relatable to many. Guest really opens the lives of these so called "ordinary people" as they deal with the trials of life all the while trying to keep their family together. I enjoyed the characters especially Conrad's psychologist who had an interesting approach to the situation. Good read.
Clare Bear
Jan 10, 2008 Clare Bear rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Clare by: Mother
Shelves: a-classic
This story is about how one family member's accidental death affects the survivors in different ways. It is written from the perspective of a young man, it is his brother who has died, and out of guilt and grief and feeling disconnected from his parents, he attempts suicide. So then the family and the young man all are forced to deal with grief anew.

No-one grieves the same. No-one is to blame. But the family fractures for all that.

There is something very raw how this premise is developed, and th...more
K.D. Absolutely
I saw the Oscar winning movie when I was still a teenager and I liked it. However, the novel is too long for a topic quite short. I read that Judith Guest intended this to be a short story and I thought that she should have stick to it. I thought it could have been more effective if the story explains why did the mother became cold and indifferent. Mothers are not always like that especially if she has already lost one son and only one is still alive.
This book was first recommended to me by my high school English teacher. I had just read Lord of the Flies, and she could tell I needed something to restore my faith in humanity. This book is incredible!

It is a real, unflinchingly honest look at life and all of the horrible things that happen. It is also a reminder of the reasons that life is still worth living in spite of those horrible things.(less)
Long Nguyen
So long, so long ago I read this book, but still it stuck with me. There is a certain timeless element to it: survivor's guilt, dysfunctional coping, parental involvement, and resilience. It even features a very likable therapist to boot.
The book is about an ordinary family dealing with the aftermath of tragic events. It is psychological and emotional at times but not overly so. I felt it had a disturbing undercurrent of unsettling that didn't subside until the epilogue. The organization and interactions between the characters is the most interesting. It is told from the perspective of the son, Conrad, and his father, Cal, in alternating chapters. The way Conrad's mother emotionally deals with the events seemed the most complex,...more
This is the final of 3 books that my teaching team briefly considered reintroducing into the curriculum. I really enjoyed this book, but recognized it quickly as something the students wouldn't fully understand or enjoy. I think kids would identify at least somewhat with chapters told from Conrad's perspective, but given how much of the book focuses on Cal, I'm not sure why so many high schools continue to assign it to students. It was a great book, though, and I'm looking forward to watching th...more
Love the movie, but not the book.
Extraordinarily Ordinary People
This book, Ordinary People by Judith Guest, is easily a recommendable book. But I did not love it. It had its ups and downs, not like a great book should, but like a good book that caught my interest. The main characters might have been ordinary people, but so many extraordinary things happen to that family, which elevates the Jarrett family past the level of normal. It is with a skeptical air with which I view this book, both in the duration of the reading and af...more

Ordinary People by Judith Guest is a novel that provides a perspective of life that one would not normally consider. Despite the morbid mood that surrounds the characters, this story is quite interesting to read. I especially liked the way the author described the characters, and allowed some to grow while others remained the same throughout the story. Another thing I liked was the way that the author set up the novel; without telling the whole back story through and Introduction chapter, she al...more
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Rohan G

Adolescence is a terrible, terrible time. Hormones, social pressure, and identity struggles make these years a nightmare for everyone—from the normal to the eccentric, no one escapes the drama and fear that is teenage life. Judith Guest’s Ordinary People captures this mix of emotions in the lives of the Jarrett family. At first, I thought that calling attempted suicide and lost brothers “ordinary” was a tad insensitive on Judith Guest’s part. However, as the novel progressed, I grew to understan

Anna (Yoda Is My Spirit Animal)

A lot of people are depressed by this book. I am not one of them and every time I re-read it (so far about six times!) it uplifts me and reminds me that nothing is ever quite so bad as I think it may be. This book is about the Jarret family, Mom and Dad with their two sons. When we meet them they only have one son left, Conrad, the younger son who has recently been released from a sanitarium after attempting suicide. The book is mostly from Conrad's point...more
Christopher Cook
���Judith Guest’s ORDINARY PEOPLE (an almost hilariously ironic title) tells the story of Conrad “Con” Jarrett, a teenaged boy who recently lost his brother, Jordan “Buck” Jarrett, to an unfortunate boating accident. Unable to deal with the pressure that is bestowed upon him and the feeling that Buck’s death may have been his fault, Con attempts to end his life, resulting in a whirlwind of an aftermath, including but certainly not limited to his mother’s perceived resentment toward him. Con begi...more
Jul 07, 2011 Wildbriar rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People unafraid of introspection
Recommended to Wildbriar by: Its film adaptation did, and who am I to ignore prompting like that?

I normally shy away from reading 'classics', because I often seem to find that they don't live up to their hype. Maybe I just find the subject boring, or I don't like the way it's written, or they feel too dated. Whatever the reason, I only picked up this book because I saw the movie of it and thought it was amazing, so may as well try the paper version. I'm so glad I did.

Ordinary People isn't an easy book. People who like fast-paced, plot-driven stories should probably steer clear of this one;...more
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ORDINARY PEOPLE vs CATCHER IN THE RYE 2 24 Jul 24, 2014 08:43AM  
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“People who keep stiff upper lips find that it's damn hard to smile.” 85 likes
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