In his new book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, Andrew Solomon (author of Noonday Demon) thoughtfully explores for a general readership the process of identity formation in children who surprise their parents with a variety of traits and conditions… Solomon explores the impact of such differences between children and their families through extensive, well-documented research, meticulous interviews with interesting subjects, and a thoughtful, balanced, and nonideologic exploration of how families and children grapple with the negative and positive aspects of identity that diverge from expectation.
…He frames his exploration within personal experiences that he relates with impressive insight, candor, and poignancy.
…In the hands of a lesser writer, the exploration of this subject might have devolved into a doctrinaire screed trumpeting self-esteem at all costs, including eschewing diagnosing illness in these groups. Solomon avoids this pitfall admirably, exploring his subject with thoughtful intelligence.
…Solomon neither espouses nor decries the notion that identity and difference are central concerns in our society; rather, he recognizes it as a fact. He writes a deeply thoughtful, balanced, and highly informed book about what it means to be different from one’s parents’ expectations. His discussion will be engrossing for a general audience affected and unaffected by the conditions described. At the same time, by virtue of its extensive research and remarkable interviews, it is rich, detailed, and informative enough to be appreciated by child psychiatrists, whose profession requires them to think about how their patients and their families negotiate differences and divergent identities. His exploration of the subject matter adds admirably to the literature on this topic and provides a thoughtful analysis in a language that is accessible for families and stimulating for professionals.
Stewart L. Adelson, M.D.
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
Weill Medical College of Cornell University
Solomon is unusual as a writer in the genre in identifying without reservation with his subjects. He accomplishes this often by describing his own difficult but moving experience.
…He writes that a success of the disability rights movement has been to “understand that the interests of children, parents, and society do not necessarily coincide, and that children are the least able to stand up for themselves” (p. 356). Although Far from the Tree has other purposes, it is a call for us to think very carefully about our motivations when we set out to change our children, as parents, professionals, and a society.
…Solomon’s book is powered by empathy and insight, and he is an emissary for those who have, for the most part, been unable to protect themselves in any way. It also includes high-order qualitative research, in the form of case reports, and research summaries that will guide professionals. It deserves a home in every professional library, and it is a work of great literary beauty and interest.
Yale University School of Medicine
(To read both reviews in full, please visit the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website.)