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Ordinary People

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  13,591 ratings  ·  653 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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Community Reviews

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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
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.
Norah Sumner
“Life is not a series of pathetic, meaningles actions. Some of them are so far from pathetic, so far from meaningless as to be beyond reason, maybe beyond forgiveness.”

This is a wonderful book about loss,family,forgiveness,depression and life.Judith Guest's writing style was very surprising to me at the beginning because she narrates in present tense(very risky!).But the more you read the more you get attached to Cal and Conrad and the more you want them to make everything work and be happy.I
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.)
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
Rebecca McNutt
Conrad is grief-struck after his brother is killed in a boating accident, and tries to commit suicide. After finally getting out of the hospital where he was subjected to shock therapy and drugs, he wants to talk about his brother, but while his father agrees that he still needs to talk about Buck, his mother won't hear of it, and would rather pretend that everything is normal than speak to her son about his grief.

This book is really great, even better than the 1980 film. It was sad though, the
J.G. Keely
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
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
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
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
I thought this book was going to bring back that anxious feeling just below my sternum that I hate, but it had just the opposite effect. It calmed me down and taught me a few things: how I should be more open, how I should just try and accept people for how they are and not try to make them into how I want them to be but probably most importantly that you can still be lost in this world and hang in there because you're not alone; when something happens we internalize and live with the pain but t ...more
I liked this book. I hated the mom.
Nathan Long
Last night, I watched the movie based on Ordinary People and it's one of those situations where it's leaps and bounds above its source material. It highlights all the good parts, while cutting out the bits and that are contrived and silly. Redford deserved his Oscar for best director for pulling a great movie out of an alright book.

Was nobody else bothered by the parents in this book? Cal is perfect, the great orphan who pulled himself up from the muck to achieve greatness. He still has depth,
Kitty Jay
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
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
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
Steph is love, perfect and unordered, that keeps them apart, even as it holds them somehow together.

The theme of personal isolation within small families is one of my greatest weaknesses. How can they live their lives together, but still be so lonely?

Well, what do you expect? We are a family, aren't we? And a family turns inward toward itself in grief, it does not go in separate directions, pulling itself apart. Like hell it doesn't. Grief is ugly. It is isolating. It is not something to be s
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
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.
Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma
I picked up this book last year, and at tge time I didn't know what to expect. But from the first page of my journey with the Jarret family, it became clear that this was the kind of story that will live with me for a long time to come.

There were momentous when I would just put the book aside and think of what I would do. It's that type of book which immerses you deep into the lives of ordinary people.

This is the background, Conrad Jarret, son to Beth and Calvin Jarret, is has been diagnosed w
Amanda G. Stevens
This book was one of those "multiple copies at the used-book store, so it's either great or terrible" chances. On the one hand, a bigger chance than usual: that bland, uninformative cover wouldn't pass muster today (yet I like it now that I've read the book). On the other hand, it shouldn't be a chance at all: the accolades all over the front and back promise this to be a novel I'll "rejoice" over, "a writer's novel, a reader's novel, a critic's novel," and of course the highbrow-wannabe in me c ...more
Anna (Yoda Is My Spirit Animal)
Review also posted @Diamond&Coal Book Reviews

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
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
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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.
Alexis U
EDIT: After finishing my presentation and my paper on this book and really having to think about it, I decided it was only a 2.5-3 star read for me.

I think the way this book dealt with mental health issues was at times a bit questionable (or perhaps just slightly outdated), but I did find it interesting. I read this for an adolescent lit class.

a full review will be up on my blog: http://readingonarocketship.wordpress...
Lee Yahnker
Very good story. Some problems can be solved, some can't and some aren't problems in the first place. Some interesting plots on suicide and depression, but not enough to he heavy or depressing. Holds your interest from beginning to end.
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
I had the pleasure of meeting Judith Guest last week and I was inspired to read this classic for the first time. I loved the quiet, yet powerful, look into family dynamics that occur after a tragedy. Guest captured perfectly, at least to me, the thoughts and actions of a young man who is struggling with growing up at the same time struggling with massive guilt and pain after his brother's death. Conrad was portrayed with depth and feeling. I wanted to give him a hug, tell him that everything wil ...more
Donna Zigmont
I liked the book. I actually bought it at a library sale. I've seen the movie several times and really liked it. I can sort of relate to Conrad. I've had a problem with depression for a long time. My experience is very different from his. I liked Conrad. His struggles are very difficult and real. I had to applaud him for how he went through things.
I honestly couldn't stand Beth. I just couldn't understand how a mother could be so unfeeling toward her own child. or how she could continue to blame
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Classics Corner 35 50 Jul 30, 2014 02:43AM  
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“People who keep stiff upper lips find that it's damn hard to smile.” 94 likes
“Feeling is not selective, I keep telling you that. You can’t feel pain, you aren’t gonna feel anything else, either.” 29 likes
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