Childhood Disorders

 email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
12 and HoldingA Guide to Asperger SyndromeA Lethal InheritanceA Mother's Courage: Talking Back to AutismA Parent's Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning AutismA Special EducationA Toss Of The DiceA Tribe ApartA User Guide to the GF/CF Diet for Autism, Asperger Syndrome and AD/HDA Walk in the Rain With a BrainABC of Eating DisordersADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your LifeADHD Grown UpADHD in the Schools: Assessment and Intervention StrategiesADHD NationAdolescence and Body ImageAdolescent DepressionAggression and Antisocial Behavior in Children and AdolescentsAll Alone in the UniverseAlpha GirlsAmericaAnother PlanetAntisocial Behavior in Children and AdolescentsAsperger Syndrome and Your ChildAsperger Syndrome, Adolescence, and IdentityAsperger's and GirlsAssessment of Childhood DisordersAttention Deficit DisorderAttention-Deficit Hyperactivity DisorderAttention-Deficit/Hyperactivity DisorderAutism - The Eighth Colour of the RainbowAutism and MeAutism's False ProphetsAutistic Spectrum DisordersBad GirlBeen There, Done That? DO THIS!Before I DieBetween Two WorldsBeyond AppearanceBig Mouth & Ugly GirlBipolar ChildrenBipolar Disorder in Childhood and Early AdolescenceBipolar DisordersBipolar KidsBlackwell Handbook of Childhood Cognitive DevelopmentBody Image, Eating Disorders, and ObesityBody Image, Eating Disorders, and Obesity in YouthBoy AloneBrain-Based Therapy with Children and AdolescentsBreaking PointBreathing UnderwaterBringing Up ParentsBullying and TeasingBullying PreventionBut I Love HimCan't Eat, Won't EatCaring for a Child with AutismCatalystChild and Adolescent PsychiatryChild and Adolescent Psychological DisordersChild and Adolescent PsychopathologyChild NeuropsychologyChild Well-BeingChildren and SexualityChildren Changed by TraumaChildren with Emerald EyesChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChildren’s Dreaming and the Development of Consciousness City of OneCommunication Issues In Autism And Asperger SyndromeConcepts of NormalityConcise Guide to Child and Adolescent PsychiatryConquering the Beast WithinConsuming KidsContesting ChildhoodCount Us InCrackedCrossesCutCyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy TeensDamageDemystifying the Autistic ExperienceDescartes' BabyDilemmas of DesireDirtyDisconnected KidsDoing SchoolDon't Bother Me Mom--I'm Learning!Don't Pick On MeDying to Be ThinEarly Intervention Programs and PoliciesEating an ArtichokeEducating Children With AutismEight Stories UpElijah's CupEmerald City BluesEmotional and Behavioral Problems of Young ChildrenEpilepticEthical Dilemmas in PediatricsEvery Girl Tells a StoryExiting NirvanaExploiting ChildhoodEye ContactFacing BipolarFamily HistoryFast GirlsForever YoungFreaks, Geeks and Asperger SyndromeFreewillFrictionGirl CultureGirl in the MirrorGirlfightingGirlhoodGirlWiseHandbook of Evidence-Based Therapies for Children and AdolescentsHandbook of Preschool Mental HealthHealing ADDHelping Children Cope With Disasters and TerrorismHelping Hyperactive KidsHelping Parents, Youth, and Teachers Understand Medications for Behavioral and Emotional ProblemsHelping Students Overcome Depression and AnxietyHelping Teens Who CutHollow KidsHope's BoyHow Infants Know MindsHow to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do If You Can'tHurry Down SunshineI Am Not Joey PigzaIdentifying Hyperactive ChildrenIf Your Adolescent Has an Eating DisorderIn the Company of CraziesIncorporating Social Goals in the ClassroomIntegrated YogaIntrusive ParentingIssues for Families, Schools and CommunitiesJake RileyJoey Pigza Loses ControlJoey Pigza Swallowed the KeyJuvenile-Onset SchizophreniaKim: Empty InsideLearning and Behavior Problems in Asperger SyndromeLearning Disorders and Disorders of the Self in Children and AdolescentsLearning Outside the Lines Let Kids Be KidsLiberation's ChildrenLife As We Know ItLisa, Bright and DarkLook Me in the EyeLoserLove and SexLove That DogMad at SchoolMaking ADD WorkMaking American BoysManicMastering Anger and AggressionMaverick MindMedicating ChildrenMind FieldsMind to MindMommy I'm Still in HereMore Than a LabelMy Flesh and BloodMyths of ChildhoodNew Hope for Children and Teens with Bipolar DisorderNew Look at ADHD: Inhibition, Time, and Self-ControlNo Child Left DifferentNo Two AlikeNon-Drug Treatments for ADHDNot Much Just Chillin'NurtureShockOdd Girl OutOdd Girl Speaks OutOne Hot SecondOne in ThirteenOphelia SpeaksOphelia's MomOur Journey Through High Functioning Autism and Asperger SyndromeOut of the WoodsOvercoming ADHDOvercoming School AnxietyParenting a Child Who Has Intense EmotionsParenting Children With ADHDParenting Your Out-Of-Control TeenagerPediatric PsychopharmacologyPediatric PsychopharmacologyPediatric PsychopharmacologyPeople with HyperactivityPhobic and Anxiety Disorders in Children and AdolescentsPINSPlease Don't Label My ChildPraising Boys WellPraising Girls WellProblem Child or Quirky Kid?Problem GirlsPsychotherapy for Children and AdolescentsPsychotherapy with Children and AdolescentsPurgeRaising a Moody ChildRaising BlazeRaising Generation RxRaising Resilient ChildrenReady or Not, Here Life ComesReclaiming Our ChildrenRedressing the EmperorReducing Adolescent RiskRemembering Our ChildhoodResilience in ChildrenRethinking ADHDReweaving the Autistic TapestryRitalin is Not the Answer Action GuideRitalin NationRunning on RitalinRunning with ScissorsRutter's Child and Adolescent PsychiatrySeeing EzraSex and the American TeenagerSex, Therapy, and KidsSexting and Young PeopleSexual Teens, Sexual MediaShort Term 12Should I Medicate My Child?SmashedSnapshots of AutismSongs Without WordsSophie Spikey Has a Very Big ProblemSpeakStaying Connected to Your TeenagerStick FigureStraight Talk about Psychiatric Medications for KidsStraight Talk about Psychological Testing for KidsStraight Talk about Your Child's Mental HealthStrange SonStudent DepressionSuicidal Behavior in Children and AdolescentsSurvival Strategies for Parenting Children with Bipolar DisorderSurviving OpheliaTaking Charge of ADHD, Revised EditionTaming the Troublesome ChildTemple GrandinThe American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook Of Child And Adolescent PsychiatryThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Bipolar ChildThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Boy Who Was Raised as a DogThe Buffalo TreeThe Bully Action GuideThe Bully, the Bullied, and the BystanderThe Burn JournalsThe Color of AbsenceThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Depressed ChildThe Developing MindThe Dragons of AutismThe Einstein SyndromeThe EpidemicThe Evolution of ChildhoodThe Explosive ChildThe Eyes of van GoghThe Fasting GirlThe Field of the DogsThe Flight of a DoveThe Hidden Gifts of the Introverted ChildThe Horse BoyThe Identity TrapThe Inner World of a Suicidal YouthThe Inside Story on Teen GirlsThe Kindness of StrangersThe Last Normal ChildThe Little MonsterThe Medicated ChildThe Myth of LazinessThe New Gay TeenagerThe Nurture AssumptionThe OASIS Guide to Asperger SyndromeThe Other ParentThe Perversion of YouthThe Philosophy of AutismThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Ride TogetherThe Rise and Fall of the American TeenagerThe Science of ADHDThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Survival Guide for Kids With LD*The Unhappy ChildThen Again, Maybe I Won'tTherapy with ChildrenThings I Have to Tell YouThings Tom LikesThrough the Glass WallThumbsuckerTotally WiredTouching Spirit BearTrauma in the Lives of ChildrenTreating ADHD and Comorbid DisordersTreatment of Childhood DisordersTwistedUnder the Wolf, Under the DogUnhappy TeenagersUnstrange MindsWastedWe've Got IssuesWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWhat about the KidsWhat in the World Are Your Kids Doing Online?What Works for Whom?What Would Joey Do?What's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?When Nothing Matters AnymoreWhen Your Child Has an Eating DisorderWhose America?Why Don't Students Like SchoolWill's ChoiceWinnicott On the ChildWorried All the TimeYou Hear MeYoung Minds in Social WorldsYoung People and Mental HealthYour Child, Bully or Victim?

Related Topics
Family HistoryReview - Family History
A Novel
by Dani Shapiro
Anchor, 2003
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jan 20th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 3)

A novel in which a thirteen-year-old daughter might be schizophrenic and a toddler might have brain damage is certainly serious.  Judging from the book jacket, critics hold Dani Shapiro in high esteem and believe she is well matched to the task of this serious business, and this is mystifying.  Shapiro's breezy melodramatic style does make her book Family History a quick read, but it would be more suited to a tale of a Bridget Jones-type character worrying about her weight, obsessing about movie stars and trying to find a boyfriend. 

Rachel and Ned Jensen used to live in New York City as a graduate student and struggling artist, but when she got pregnant they moved up to Massachusetts to live near his parents with money from them.  Their daughter Kate is born and has an ideal childhood until she goes to summer camp at the age of 13.  That summer Rachel and Ned enjoy the freedom of having the house to themselves and accidentally conceive another child.  But Kate returns from camp with a belly button ring and a surly attitude.  She will hardly talk to her parents and she has some behavior problems such as stealing.  Then there is an accident with her baby brother Josh and she feels very guilty, but rather than toning down her behavior, she makes a shocking accusation against her father.  This leads to her father moving out and losing his job at the local private academy.  On the recommendation of her psychiatrist, Rachel and Ned put Kate in a school for troubled children, the best on the east coast.  They have to remortgage their home in order to pay the fees because it is so expensive.  When Kate starts behaving aggressively and  self-destructively, and the doctors there tell her parents that she may have a serious mental illness. 

One of the first indications in the book that this novel seriously neglects its responsibilities is in the scene near the start of the novel in the fourth of twelve chapters.  The main events are not narrated consecutively, but rather it starts with the phone call Rachel gets from the school to say that there has been an incident and that she and Ned should make the two-hour drive for a meeting.  The plot goes back in time to when Rachel and Ned met, their early marriage, and the difficulties they had with her narcissistic mother Phyllis.  Getting back to the initial plot, when Rachel and Ned get to the school, they are taken into a room where Kate is already standing looking out of the window.  She turns round, dramatically, to reveal her swollen face. Ned wants to immediately take her from the school because his daughter has been beaten up.  Then the doctor tells Ned and Rachel that Kate did this to herself, after beating up another girl. 

While I don't have any experience with such therapeutic communities, it is massively implausible to me that any competent therapist, let alone an expert at the best such school in the east, would bring parents into a room with their daughter with her face black and blue without giving them some advance warning.  What's more, the whole scene that follows, in which Dr Esposito convinces the parents to sign Kate in to a more stringent, more expensive program, is so brief as to be seem to be written for an hour long TV drama than anything like a real decision made by loving parents.  Real parents do research and see what their options are.  They get second opinions.  They talk to each other for a couple of hours.  As described by Shapiro, Ned and Rachel seem shallow and annoying, but clearly that is not the author's intention.  She wants to make her readers feel great sympathy for her two heroes and their plight, yet she fails. 

The Jensens lead a privileged life.  Their best friends are rich New Yorkers, and Rachel's mother lives in a nice apartment overlooking Central Park.  Ned's parents lend them the money so that the two of them can buy a house when they need to.  Rachel rebels against the local social norms by insisting to keeping her own career as an art restorer rather than being a full-time mother.  Maybe a portion of the population will identify with this couple, but probably a rather small portion.  Of course, the couple's situation is very difficult, but Shapiro doesn't give their experience the consideration it deserves.  At one point, Ned is described as crying "hot tears," which sounds like a phrase from a romance novel.  When near the end of the novel, Rachel and Ned want to bring Kate back home, but their only justification is that Rachel feels like it would be a better decision.  It is yet another event where a change in the plot is given very weak justification.  The whole story seems like a sketch rather than showing real characters living a real situation. 

In short, while Family History deals with important issues, it trivializes them and turns her characters into bad actors.  While Rachel at some points confesses that she wishes that other mothers would realize that terrible things can happen to ordinary people, the story in the end leads the reader to expect that everything will turn out fine.  The suggestions that Kate has a major mental illness and that Josh has brain damage seem more like plot devices to induce anxiety in their parents.  There's no honest look at adolescent mental illness or cognitive deficits here.  Shapiro never stares real misfortune in the face.  While Shapiro clearly has skills in fashioning a readable novel, this novel lacks moral seriousness. 

I should mention that Family History has won high praise from The New York Times Book Review, NPR's Fresh Air, Newsday, the Chicago Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle among others. reader-reviewers lavish praise on the book.   Clearly other people have seen virtues in this book that I was not able to see.  I can see the attraction of a gripping read about a family crisis, and so it is not hard to understand why many people find the novel enjoyable, but nevertheless my opinion remains that Shapiro's breezy melodramatic style fails to do justice to the topic of mental illness in the family. 


© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved. 


Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


Welcome to Metapsychology. We feature over 8200 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than twenty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!

Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click here.

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716