Ordinary People

By Judith Guest,

Book cover of Ordinary People

Book description

One of the great bestseller of our time: the novel that inspired Robert Redford's Oscar-winning film starring Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore

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.…


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Why read it?

4 authors picked Ordinary People as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Most people know the 1980 film, directed by Robert Redford, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, but trust me, the 1976 novel by Judith Guest is every bit as powerful. I own four editions of it, including a first-edition hardcover—that’s how much I love this book. The novel focuses on seventeen-year-old Conrad Jarrett, just home after a suicide attempt and eight months in a psychiatric hospital. His father is worrisome and doting, his mother is cold. Conrad turns to a psychiatrist—theirs is one of the great relationships I’ve read in fiction—to help him deal with the loss of…

From Nicholas' list on grief: literary companions after loss.

This book is older (1976) but still very relevant in its brutal realism as it depicts the various ways three family members grieve differently, failing to connect and comfort one another. When the older teenage son, Buck, dies in a boating accident, his younger brother, Conrad, who’s always felt himself in his brother’s shadow, blames himself, and attempts suicide six months later. His depression is treated, but lingers. I recognize the self-reproach, the sense of being somehow at fault. Maybe parents are especially vulnerable to this, because our first job is to keep our children alive, and maybe that sense…

This classic novel is set in the north shore suburbs of Chicago, where I live. It’s the story of a family on the cusp of deterioration after the devastation of loss. Conrad Jarrett breathes on the pages of this book, struggling with who he was before tragedy, who he is becoming in the aftermath, and the reconciliation of both definitions of self. Furthermore, Guest (who studied psychology in college) depicts Conrad as a son, brother, student, athlete, and friend, proving each of us has unlimited facets, which is the basis of the realistic character.

From Sasha's list on realistic teen characters.

Judith Guest’s novel about a family who loses their eldest son in a boating accident on Lake Michigan was summer reading for my entire class in high school, but it felt like it was selected just for me. I felt I was Conrad Jarrett, the sensitive depressed outsider kid twisted up in knots over his brother’s death. It’s amazing that Judith Guest could write so convincingly from a male teenager’s point of view. But then she struggled with depression and based this story on something that really happened to a family in suburban Chicago. You can feel the truth of…

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