John Schwartz has written an informative and honest record of his family’s struggle to raise their son Joseph. Joseph’s early childhood exhibited some classic signs and signals that he was both more sensitive than other boys and that he had a predilection for glitter and sparkle. Joseph began having troubles in school after kindergarten. The book follows Joseph all the way to high school and clearly documents how challenging it can be for children to grow up gay even in this post Will & Grace, Glee embracing age.
Through reading this book, I’ve come to realize that Joseph and I have much in common. I was much like Joseph the way Schwartz describes him: a strong reader, not interested in sports and more withdrawn at school than at home. Joseph’s grandmother noted early on that Joseph preferred the pink shirt. At age three Joseph wanted to be a disco lady at Halloween. “Atta boy”, I thought. “This is one of my people.”
Joseph encountered the same issues I did in the public education system. Some teachers were great, while others presented head-to-head conflict. The school system began working to “classify” Joseph: his emotional nature, his seeming lack of eye contact and lack of impulse control. These things seemed to indicate something along the autism spectrum to educators. It became clear that Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz would need to stay involved and they did.
A teacher began suggesting medication somewhere around the 1st or 2nd grade, and seemingly near the time Joseph had employed the F-word on one of his assignments. The teacher had began building a case. Not only does Schwartz document the experience well, he also provides a good depth of research and discussion on the topics and trends of dealing with kids th exhibit behaviors that often lead to Ritalin prescriptions. Schwartz was very hesitant to embrace medication or any diagnosis but what he did embrace was his own responsibility to get informed. I applaud him and found myself wishing my childhood had been more like Joseph’s in some of these ways.
In the 4th grade, Joseph was paired with a homeroom teacher who was rigid, inflexible and even became physical with Joseph, as observed by Schwartz himself. Josephs parents had already learned that direct conflict with Joseph wasn’t the way to go. They went to the Principal repeatedly and were unable to get him moved to another homeroom.
At times in early in the book it feels as though the story is a touch one-sided and that many of the issues with this 4th grade teacher and bully could have been addressed if only they had gone over the principal’s head. By then end of the book Schwartz comes to the same conclusion in regards to handling the school system. There were other actions that Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz took and these are documented superbly in this well written book.
Included at the end of the novel is a short story that Joseph wrote and illustrated. It shows a happy boy writing from a place of hope. It’s clear that Joseph has a good chance at an “Oddly Normal” life and that gives this reader hope that it is already getting better, even if we still have a long way to go. Schwartz has added something to our collective knowledge of parenting and it’s a wonderful resource for any parent whose child is showing signs they might eventually grow up to be part of the LGBT community. There’s still much to do as a parent of these LGBT kids, thankfully Schwartz took some excellent notes.