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Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality
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Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  985 Ratings  ·  177 Reviews
A heartfelt memoir by the father of a gay teen, and an eye-opening story for families who hope to bring up well-adjusted gay adults.

Three years ago, John Schwartz, a national correspondent at The New York Times, got the call that every parent hopes never to receive: his thirteen-year-old son, Joe, was in the hospital following a failed suicide attempt. After mustering the
Hardcover, 290 pages
Published November 8th 2012 by Gotham
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Michelle Donovan "I also find it interesting that it's ok for his kid to be Gay just not on the spectrum."

I found that interesting too. As I said in my review: there's…more
"I also find it interesting that it's ok for his kid to be Gay just not on the spectrum."

I found that interesting too. As I said in my review: there's absolutely nothing wrong with being gay, but there is also absolutely nothing wrong with being autistic/on the spectrum. (less)

Community Reviews

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Rating details
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Dec 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
Full disclosure - I only read the first 100 pages. Why did I stop?

Well, it's not because the subject matter isn't interesting. A gay teen trying to kill himself. And it's not because it's the story of one family's struggle to make it through a difficult time. I am all for family angst.

I stopped because while I applaud Schwartz for writing about something very difficult, he has made this book about his own struggle and justifications for the choices he made as a parent, and in the first 100 pages
Jan 20, 2013 rated it liked it
I read several good reviews of this book, so I snatched it off the shelf when I saw it at the library. I groaned at the first few pages - the author seemed to employ all the stereotypes of gay children. But this improved as the book went on, and he and his wife really are sympathetic parents.

The book is a story of their young son not only dealing with his sexual orientation, but a number of other emotional and learning issues that may or may not have been caused or exacerbated by his sexual orie
Nov 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
In short: I found this book to be simultaneously uplifting, helpful, and troubling.
More specifically: The pages that detail Ilan Meyer's testimony at the Proposition 8 trial regarding his ideas about 'minority stress' made this book well worth the time spent reading it. This is a concept that I've read about parenthetically in news articles, but I had not read a detailed explanation until this book came along. It's an idea that resonates with my own experience and has given me a number of things
Feb 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbt-themed
I wish I could have read this book when my son was in the public school system. Many of the author's experiences rang true, especially the interest by school employees in diagnosing his child with labels from the DSM that reflect psychological trends rather than behavioral reality. It seems that the school system felt more comfortable declaring a child autistic than attempting to understand his sexual orientation.

Schwartz gives an excellent description of the ways in which the closet creates em
Darren Mitton
Oct 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read - it is authentic, and straight from the heart. You can really sense how much these parents love their son and how bewildered they are as how to help him cope with dealing with a society that refuses to understand and refuses to be flexible. The author does not present himself as an expert (the sections on his belief that most gay men/boys are effeminate show this well - those studies are REALLY out-of-date), but instead both he and his wife try to act like this child's buffer fro ...more
Apr 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queer, non-fiction
I think that this is an amazing book for parents to read (any parents, not just parents of gay kids, though it is especially impactful for them). It is clear where Joseph learned his excellent writing skills, and it was an honor to be able to peek into the lives of such extraordinary people. I found myself identifying with my own past experiences and as someone from the lgbtq+ community I find it refreshing to read about such open minded parents. Indeed, as John points out, most parents are not ...more
Debbie "DJ"
Feb 18, 2013 rated it really liked it

Times are changing for so many gay youth. I could not believe this family's total involvement in their son's emotional and physical health. Understanding early that he was gay, and actually wanting him to come out when so many other families are devastated by such news. What a world this could be if all parents put so much effort into their children's lives. I also found the book to be very informative with the effects of CA's prop 8, and many federal court rulings. A very current and wonderful
Sep 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoirs
I picked up this book looking for ideas because I am concerned about the challenges a preteen effeminate relative may face in the next few years.

I found this book interesting and I liked the writing style BUT I also found it incredibly offensive, and unscientific.

Some complaints:

-Schwartz defines transgender people as men who believe they are women, and women who believe they are men. That has got to be one of the most offensive definitions of transgender I have ever come across from somebody w
Christina Nelson
Dec 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
I don't typically comment on books, but this was a hard one for me not to. On one hand, I thoroughly appreciated the perspective shared in this book about the experiences of this young boy and his family. That is what made me truly enjoy this book. Yet, as a teacher, I struggle with the implications throughout the book about the mean teachers and non-supportive schools. In my experience, and from what this family shared, I can't help but wonder if they put way too much emphasis on what the schoo ...more
Jan 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The peerless skill of a first-rate New York Times investigative reporter combined with the compassion, commitment, empathy and advocacy of two fine parents, has created a moving account of a family raising a gay child, and probably the most exhaustively researched history of gay parenting ever written. Although John Schwartz set out to write a memoir to help others, he achieved much more. Oddly Normal is as emotionally moving as a Hollywood tearjerker and as assiduously researched as a lead stor ...more
Mar 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
I didn't like this one, and I was expecting to. It seemed like he kept tying everything back to the fact that his son was gay, was in fact it appeared he had many other issues aside from that, and tying them to his sexuality just seemed rather bizarre. I didn't learn anything new. I do wish his son the best.
Gavin Stephenson-Jackman
Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality is the story of an amazing set of parents and their youngest son Joseph as he grows up and out. Joseph, struggles with a variety of learning disorders and conflicting diagnosis as he moved through school. At an early age he also exhibited signs and behaviours which lead his parents to suspect that he was also gay.

From the start his parents became advocates for their son at his schools and sought out ad
Nov 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
The sexuality angle of this book seems to receive the most attention, but it's also about how kids who are different in a variety of ways - exceptionally bright, learning disabled, etc. - are often let down by a "one size fits all" education system and expected to be treated until they conform, as was the case with his son. If you've read Alexandra Robbins' "The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth," much of this story will sound familiar. The author deserves praise for doing a very difficult thing in ...more
Nov 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Sometimes I have difficulty deciding how to rate a book-in this case I decided to average my rating including the 5 stars I would give it if I was a parent faced with a similar situation, the 4 stars that I would give it as a teacher who was looking for how to help a wide diversity of students, and the 3 stars I would give it as a member of the general reading public looking for an interesting memoir. Being a member of the last group, I found John Schwartz's love for his son Joseph to be heart w ...more
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was a good mixture of personal experience and research. The author is a journalist, and I could tell that having knowledge/information is how he likes to deal with problems. As I'm similarly wired, the approach worked for me. I learned a lot about current research as well as the author's family's experience.

As a teacher and a parent, I could see both sides of their issues with school. At first I was appalled at the behavior of one of their son's teachers
Mar 18, 2014 rated it liked it
When I first started reading this book, I was disappointed that the subtitle was so misleading. Their son has many more issues than just being gay and the early part of the book focuses on those issues. And every other chapter provides supporting material, more info than I require. But I'm very glad I stuck with the book as this family learned how to deal with our education system and their son blossomed into the fabulous creature he was meant to be. This books is highly recommended for teachers ...more
Nov 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: bookclub, funbooks
The author tells the story of his son's childhood and eventual coming out. The author seems to blame all of his son Joseph's problems (at school, socially, etc.) on his sexuality. I think that is unfair. Clearly, there are many gay people who grow up without spending hours in the principal's office and being diagnosed (falsely, the author contends) with ADHD and Asperger's. To me, this book should not have been marketed as being about a person coming to terms with his sexuality, but more as a me ...more
Mar 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
If you are looking into this book as a parent of a gay teenager, please keep in mind that this is a detailed account of a unique child with unique circumstances. Not every emotionally disturbed teen is struggling with sexual identity issues, and not every gay teen is struggling with emotional/behavioral issues. This is a memoir, not a guidebook. That said, a chapter near the end is especially helpful in providing an historical overview of same-sex marriage in the United States.
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book rang truer than I ever could have imagined. Schwartz writes eloquently of his son's struggles growing up gay and the associated complications of dealing with school bureaucracy. Not just a personal memoir, Schwartz also explores the broader implications of the effects of minority stress on gay teens. I wish I'd had a copy of this book when I was 14, 15, or 16. I also wish that my parents had had a copy. Excellent and highly recommended.
Maureen Flatley
Nov 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
I wanted to love this book. I didn't. In the end it seemed an odd exercise at self promotion that also exposed far too much detail of their son's struggles w/ an array of mental health and behavioral health issues. In the end it seemed an exercise in narcissism on the part of the parents at the expense of their son's privacy.
Jan 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
A very touching story of a very wise set of parents and their struggle to support their son in the face of all too normal bureaucratic obstacles. Funny and sweet, but with an edge. The use of alternating chapters to provide back up and research between the stages of the story was an interesting device. (Audiobook)
Jaclyn Day
Nov 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Oddly Normal is one of the best parenting books I’ve read. Period. Schwartz’s account of his son’s childhood, coming out and struggles in school made for a memoir I won’t soon forget. It’s the perfect blend of professional research and personal anecdotes. Masterfully put together and intensely thought-provoking, the most memorable thing about this book is how Schwartz and his wife were unapologetic advocates for their son Joe. Whether it was in supporting his coming out to them or in defending h ...more
Although this book is a well-written and riveting read for a general audience (reminding us of the diversity found among children and the tenacious love of parents for their kids), it is especially appropriate for at least two groups of parents: those raising a young child who is showing signs that may signal incipient gayness, and those whose child--for any number of reasons--needs advocacy within the school system.

Written by a journalist, the book combines both memoir and research to good effe
Mike Hevel
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
After hearing so many stories of bullying and suicides of LGBT youth over the last year or so, it was refreshing and enlightening to read the story of a young man who succeeds and flourishes after overcoming challenges with the incredible support of his parents. I would recommend it to any parent of a LGBT kid whether they are already out, in the process of coming out , or to any parent that suspects that their kid might be gay. As Joseph's story attests, LGBT kids are becoming aware that they a ...more
Jan 04, 2013 rated it liked it
I found this book both interesting and somewhat frustrating. It was interesting because the story of Schwartz's son is interesting - his problems in school, his coming out, etc.
What I didn't like about it is the rather detached, almost cold style that Schwartz writes in. More than that, he seems insistent that is son not ever have a 'label' even though he is diagnosed several times as having Aspergers. He repeats his desire to avoid a diagnosis, insistent that his son is simply unique. Fair enou
Khulud Khamis
I don't think I would have picked up this book at a bookstore. I got this as a gift from a friend, and read it in two sittings. I can't compare this to other books on supporting LGBT youth, as I haven't read any. I don't like to write what the book lacks or what it doesn't include, but rather focus on what it does.
The narrative alternates between research, statistics, legal cases, and Schwartz's family's story. The book is written from the perspective of the parents, and mainly focuses on the sc
Tracy Simmons
Mar 23, 2013 rated it liked it
I did really like this book, but I couldn't help but ask again and again -- did it ever occur to the parents to take this boy out of school altogether? I'm sorry, but this idea that we must somehow make kids fit into a system that so obviously doesn't accept or support them really chaps my hide. Of course, this is coming from a person who doesn't believe our current system is necessarily even good for kids who are "thriving" in it. I understand that I am in the minority here.

I do appreciate that
Richard Cytowic
Dec 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
A strange boy's parents realize he's gay before the body knows it himself! This hilarious but moving account by the boy's father made me wish I had had a father like him during my adolescent years——in fact all gay kids should be lucky to have parents as supportive and understanding as the Schwartzes are, and as willing to negotiate hostile schools and other environments on behalf of their son, the youngest of three children, and a boy who has learning disabilities besides.
The narrative voyage i
Nov 26, 2012 marked it as to-read
Saw the book mentioned in this article that was shared by the local Keshet:

I'm a bit disappointed by this paragraph in the article, though: "Jeanne and John had suspected Joe was gay since he was 3. He’d loved pink and rhinestones and Barbies and fabulousness; for Halloween he asked to be 'a disco yady.'” None of those things mean that he's gay. Wanting to have sex with people of the same sex is what makes you gay; those are all about gender expression, w
Nov 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
The author and In this case the father exposes his families "experience" which is actually frustrating, scary and heartbreaking.
This book is for all parents and teachers too.
It is not just reading a book, it is learning as you read.
It shares what it is to be a responsible adult bearing the burden of a minor's mental health when not knowing the answers to help guide the minor and being misguided by professionals that you went to and paid for their expertise. It is honest and easy to relate to.
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