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Ordinary People

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  19,160 ratings  ·  1,090 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.
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Paperback, 263 pages
Published October 28th 1982 by Penguin Books (first published July 19th 1976)
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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  19,160 ratings  ·  1,090 reviews

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Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Once, when my middle child was 7 or 8 years old, I was listening to the usual rhythm of her saying her evening prayer, when she surprised me by adding, “And Lord, please remember, when I die, I want to come back as a horse. Amen.”

I laughed out loud at her prayer, but then I immediately realized my mistake, when I saw her face. She wasn't joking. I switched gears quickly, got serious, and said, “Honey. I don't get it. Why are you asking God to bring you back as a horse?”

She answered very matter-o
Julie Christine
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 rated it it was ok

But rather interesting, is it not, 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 A
Jan 21, 2010 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
Jul 19, 2007 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.
Susan's Reviews
Mar 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I saw the very excellent movie, Ordinary People, starring Donald Sutherland and my one time crush Timothy Hutton first. That movie moved me very deeply. The book was just as memorable and I have my own copies of both, and watch and reread them every once in a while.

Conrad and Buck are out sailing when their boat capsizes. Conrad is able to hang on, but Buck loses his grip and drowns. The Jarrett family is torn apart and Conrad's survivor's guilt leads him to attempt suicide. (If suicidal ideatio
Tyler  Bell
Dec 01, 2020 rated it liked it
3.25/5 Stars

This was just middle-of-the-road for me

I know that there is a really famous movie that was adapted back in the 80's, and even won the Best Picture Oscar. I had no idea that it was first a book. Now, I haven't watched the movie, but from review I've seen of the movie, I went into the book with higher than average hopes. Unfortunately, not all expectations were met.

I'm going to start with the good. I think that Judith Guest did an amazing job in depicting depression, happiness, lon
Lisa  (not getting friends updates) Vegan
Jun 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who enjoy fiction abot adolescents & families
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.) ...more
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,
Norah Una Sumner
Apr 03, 2015 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.
Jun 13, 2007 rated it liked it
I liked this book. I hated the mom.
Susan Stuber
Dec 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I read this book probably 40 years ago, and its story still haunts me. I would need a re-read to rate the prose, etc., but as far as impact goes, this book has it.
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
Jim Dooley
Nov 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a strange admission to make. My review would have been higher had I not first seen the motion picture, “Ordinary People.” That was a profound viewing experience for me, and I’ve enjoyed the film about five times through the years. There are a number of things that I thought the film did better than what was found in the book. And, indeed, two film moments that had a very strong emotional impact for me ... “Let’s have the best Christmas ever” and “What did it matter what I wore that day?” ...more
Aj Sterkel
Mar 14, 2016 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
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
SheriC (PM)
I wish I had the skill to truly analyze what makes the difference between a book where the author tries to manipulate the reader’s emotions and only gets an “hmm how sad” from me, or worse, eyerolls, and a book that has me glued to the pages and leaking tears. All I know is that this is one of the latter.

In spite of a story that is almost all character, with almost all events taking place within those characters’ thoughts and emotions and in their interactions with one another, and in spite of
Great book. This was one of the most all time depressing reads for me. (first read it as a kid). But it is still a wonderful book. The movie too was incredible.
Anna Kay
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's
Kitty Jay
Mar 17, 2014 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
Sep 20, 2008 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
Karen Witzler
Was looking up the 2019 Women's Prize Longlist titles and was down to Diana Evans's Ordinary People ---- and remembered that I am so damned old I read the one by Judith Guest in 1976. ...more
Riva Sciuto
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
"So truth is in a certain feeling of permanence that presses around the moment. They are ordinary people, after all."


This is one of those books that finds its way right into the center of your heart and remains there forever. Judith Guest's 'Ordinary People' is a story about a family ravaged by tragedy, irrevocably altered after a devastating and incomprehensible loss. Guest's portrayal of grief -- of its enormity and permanence and finality -- is one of the most real and powerful I've encou
Jan 05, 2015 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 22, 2016 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 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
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
(2.5) Though well written, the relentess time spent in Conrad and his Dad's heads wore on me after about half the book. Plus, the mom is a major character and is given short-shrift. It would've been more balanced had we heard from her too. This is a good book to read to get an idea about mental illness and its effects on families, though. ...more
Sophie Carter
Mar 19, 2016 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. ...more
Feb 18, 2021 rated it did not like it
Shelves: way-overhyped, 1-star
The mother character in this book is treated with so little compassion or understanding that I found myself checking multiple times whether Ordinary People was actually written by a woman. I would just assume that Guest has some very intense mommy issues, but none of the other female characters are allowed to be anything other than Pure Girlfriend, Old Nag, or Teacher, so I honestly have no clue what's going on with her.

The story itself is so weird and bad. The son, Conrad, has at least a passab
Kim Becker (MIDDLE of the Book MARCH)
It wasn’t until I was mostly finished with “Ordinary People” that I realized it was Judith Guest’s first novel. She depicts dysfunctional family dynamics and mental illness with such clarity and compassion. Her character development is stunning for this short of a book and her writing was descriptive and poignant, without being flowery. With a few exceptions of music and car models, this book is as timely now as it was in 1976.

Guest writes about grief like someone having gone through the grievi
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Classics Corner 35 60 Jul 30, 2014 02:43AM  
ORDINARY PEOPLE vs CATCHER IN THE RYE 1 47 Jul 30, 2012 10:33AM  
What's the Name o...: SOLVED. Discontented kid attempts suicide [s] 5 21 Dec 06, 2007 07:51PM  

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