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Ordinary People

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  15,261 Ratings  ·  770 Reviews
An extraordinary novel about an "ordinary" family divided by pain, yet bound by their struggle to heal.

In Ordinary People, Judith Guest’s remarkable first novel, 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 no
Paperback, 263 pages
Published October 28th 1982 by Penguin Books (first published 1976)
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Feb 21, 2011 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
Feb 12, 2014 Fabian rated it it was ok

But rather interesting how I find myself choosing below-par novels* lately which have, somehow, spawned off better-than-average silver screen adaptations! Here--the underrated work of the artist otherwise known as the screenwriter in its glory.

This is bizarrely lame--the subjects become known superficially, their problems are mundane.

Not a wise choice, people. But, apparently, vanilla can be swiftly transformed into gold (Oscar-wise).

*"Bridges of Madison County" and "Up in the Air", to ment
Jul 19, 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
Apr 03, 2015 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 21, 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
✿Ivy Roots✿
Jan 15, 2017 ✿Ivy Roots✿ rated it it was amazing
Title: Ordinary People
Author: Judith Guest
Publisher: Penguin Books
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 263
Rating: 5/5
Recommended?: YES


I was walking in the library, glancing and running my fingers across all the different spines of all the different novels, my ride was waiting for me, and I had no idea which book I wanted to pick up.
And there it was, sitting on of the shorter shelves, with its bland cover and bland title.

Ordinary People.

I didn’t know that it was a novel. I’ve never watched the movie
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
Aj Sterkel
Mar 14, 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
Jun 22, 2016 Jacquelyn rated it liked it
I read this book for my summer reading and although it was enjoyable, it just took me SO long to read it. Once I put it down, it took a lot out of me to pick it up and read more. That's not really saying it was bad... because it wasn't. Once I did pick it up and was reading it, I enjoyed it and it went a whole lot quicker. However, thinking back on it, there's really no plot. It's mainly just character growth and development. It didn't have too much going on yet it was still 260 pages. I feel as ...more
Apr 06, 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
Jun 13, 2007 Ingrid rated it liked it
I liked this book. I hated the mom.
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
Kitty Jay
Mar 17, 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
Jul 14, 2009 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
Jamie Fessenden
May 24, 2011 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
Jan 05, 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
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
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
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.
Stephanie A. Higa
Dec 20, 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.
Sophie Carter
Mar 19, 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.
Jun 03, 2016 Scott rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing book. It is a story of a family who endures a tremendous tragedy and how each copes with it. Ordinary People is an exceptionally real book. The characters come alive in the story. I strongly recommend.
Feb 19, 2017 Don rated it it was amazing
My reading of this book was necessarily tied with my viewing of the movie but both were excellent in their different ways.
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
Amanda G. Stevens
Apr 15, 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
Aug 02, 2014 Amy rated it it was amazing
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Classics Corner 35 56 Jul 30, 2014 02:43AM  
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“People who keep stiff upper lips find that it's damn hard to smile.” 102 likes
“Feeling is not selective, I keep telling you that. You can’t feel pain, you aren’t gonna feel anything else, either.” 38 likes
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