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Ordinary People

3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  14,315 Ratings  ·  701 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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Best Books of the Decade: 1970's
80th out of 971 books — 1,048 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Oct 09, 2012 Julie rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 26, 2007 Juju rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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 Una Sumner
Feb 09, 2016 Norah Una Sumner rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Norah by: Mom
“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 it was amazing  ·  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.)
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,
Jan 22, 2010 Anne-Marie rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
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
Sep 20, 2008 Abigail rated it liked it
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
Apr 07, 2007 Julie rated it it was amazing
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
Aj Sterkel
Mar 27, 2016 Aj Sterkel rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult
This is one of those quiet books that doesn’t seem like much on the surface, but there is a lot going on underneath. It’s one of those books that require some thinking to really get it.

Ordinary People alternates points-of-view between a father and a son. The father, Cal, is a successful attorney who is attempting to hold his disintegrating family together. Cal’s son, eighteen-year-old Conrad, has been dealing with depression since his brother drowned in a boating accident. Conrad’s suicide attem
Jan 09, 2015 Raluca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 17, 2007 Ingrid rated it liked it
I liked this book. I hated the mom.
Kitty Jay
Dec 27, 2014 Kitty Jay rated it really liked it
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
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
Jamie Fessenden
Nov 16, 2012 Jamie Fessenden rated it it was amazing
Shelves: drama
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
Apr 29, 2010 Emily rated it really liked it
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
Chance Lee
Jan 05, 2016 Chance Lee rated it liked it
I read this book last month (last year!) and forgot to review it.

Ordinary People is the quintessential book of suburban angst. It might as well be re-released and re-titled #firstworldproblems because it's trying to decide where to go on Christmas vacation, playing tennis in the cold, and coming in third in a golf tournament.

Okay, that's oversimplifying it. I think the book tackles depression very well and is still relevant today, 40 years after its initial publication.
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
Sophie Carter
Mar 27, 2016 Sophie Carter rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Accurate book about being a perfectionist kid. The fact that it's written in present tense threw me off a little, but once I got into it I immediately started marking up the text with quotes I liked. The characters were well developed and the book is relatable and timeless.
Phil Williams
Dec 06, 2013 Phil Williams rated it it was amazing
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 liked it
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.
Amanda G. Stevens
Jun 17, 2015 Amanda G. Stevens rated it really liked it
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
Dec 04, 2012 Hannah rated it really liked it
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
May 26, 2015 Amy rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Krisette Spangler
Dec 22, 2015 Krisette Spangler rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
I hated it. It had terrible language, inappropriate content, the writing was fragmented, and the story was depressing. I finished it, because my daughter is reading it right now for her literature class. It upsets me, because there's so much great literature out there, and this is what the schools choose to expose their students to. Unbelievable!
Feb 26, 2014 Shanna rated it liked it
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
Sep 18, 2015 Alexis U rated it liked it
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...
Robert Vaughan
Mar 22, 2016 Robert Vaughan rated it it was amazing
Recently saw the movie and re-read the book (first read it when it came out in mid to late 1970s). This is such a fantastic book. I highly recommend it to those looking for a close- knit, family story about personal tragedies and the effects they leave behind.
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“People who keep stiff upper lips find that it's damn hard to smile.” 97 likes
“Feeling is not selective, I keep telling you that. You can’t feel pain, you aren’t gonna feel anything else, either.” 33 likes
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