DRUNK REVIEW: Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I met My 35 Siblings by Chrysta Bilton

Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I met My 35 Siblings by Chrysta Bilton

Reviewed by GGGinny

What I drank: Mmmm soo much prosecco. I’m not currently at an elevation of 7000 and apparently I can hold my alcohol much better here, even if my spelling doesnt’ back it up (prosecco is hard to spell, shut up).

Goodreads Overview:

“One of the maddest memoirs you’ll read this year… This beautiful, warm, funny book is a testament to human resilience, forgiveness and humour. It is also a love letter to an extraordinary mother.” — The Times

What is a “normal family,” and how do you go about making one? Chrysta Bilton’s magnetic, larger-than-life mother, Debra, yearned to have a child, but as a single gay woman in 1980s California, she had few options. Until one day, while getting her hair done in a Beverly Hills salon, she met a man and instantly knew he was the one she’d been looking for. Beautiful, athletic, artistic, and from a well-to-do family, Jeffrey Harrison appeared to be Debra’s ideal sperm donor. 

A verbal agreement, a couple of thousand in cash, and a few squirts of a turkey baster later, and Chrysta was conceived. Over the years, Jeffrey would make regular appearances at the family home, which grew to include Chrysta’s baby sister. But how much did Debra really know about the man she’d chosen to father her daughters? And as a single mother torn between ferocious independence and abject dependence—on other women, alcohol, drugs, and the adrenaline of get-rich-quick schemes—what secrets of her own was she keeping?

It wasn’t until Chrysta was a young adult that she discovered just how much her parents had hidden from their daughters—and each other—including a shocking revelation with far-reaching consequences not only for Debra, Chrysta, and her sister, but for dozens and possibly hundreds of unsuspecting families across the country. After a lifetime of longing for a “normal family,” can Chrysta face the reality of her own, in all its complexity? 

Bringing us into the fold of a deeply dysfunctional yet fiercely loving clan that is anything but “normal,” this emotional roller coaster of a memoir will make you cry, laugh, and rethink the meaning of family.

Drunk Overview: Chrysta Bilton was raised my a mercurial mother (who was a lesbian who walked up to a random man to ask him to be a sperm donor). This book talks about what it’s like to have a mother who is famous for having a baby with a sperm donor, highs and lows where financial stability are concerned, and then the discover of a ton of siblings.

Drunk Thoughts: I will say, for a book that mentions 35 siblings in the title, that is not a major focus of the book. Partially because the author/family doesn’t find out about said 35 siblings until later (aka late teens-ish).

  • Still, I think this is a fascinating look into having a charismatic, lives in the moment parent is like.
  • The book talks about how Chrysta’s mother was involved in early MLMs and basically didn’t understand how to save.
  • The family would go through these big booms where they would have what basically constituted a zoo, and then functionally be homeless.
  • Chrysta is also the “Responsible kid”(TM) but taken to the extreme.
  • Much like another book I read recently (Trail of Crumbs) parts of this book just made me sad at how much these kids needed to do to protect themselves. This may be because I read too much AITA but the phrase parentalized gets used a lot. But this is a legit case of it, where when the mom disappeared for 90 days, Chrysta was basically the caretaker for her younger sister.
  • The book also details a number of realtionships that the authors mother had. These women were mother’s who often disappeared when relationships ended.
  • It’s just another form of abandonnmnet.
  • This book made me think a lot about the phrase “the road to hell is paved with the best intentions.” Because in so many cases, no one meant any harm. Yet the abrupt disappearance of these people made an impact on the kids.
  • A lack of stability (and safety) can make a massive impact on someone. I almost wonder what thae author would have been like if she hadn’t needed to be so responsible as a kid.
  • The portions of htis book detailing the author’s connection with her father are intense. Much like her mother, the father has a lot of charisma which often leads to him getting in trouble.
  • I assume part of this is the case of “this is a different era.” (although saying that I do think there are plenty of places that assume that a child without a mother and father figure is at a disadvantage). It almost feels like the author is at a disadvantage for having a father.
  • Is it crueler to never show up or to appear sporadically with big promises and lack follow through?
  • Again, I almost wish this book was two books; one about awild childhood and another about having so many siblings due to a sperm donor.
  • On the one hand, there are so many fascinating ideas about how someone develops in such an unstable world.
  • But, as I mentioned above, the siblings don’t come into actual play until the author’s 30’s. I’m not saying that the knowledge of a lot of siblings doesn’t have an impact.
  • But there’s a part of the book when there are measurements of how similar the siblings are (political leanings, how well they remember to charge their phones, do they own cats), that bring into question how much genetics affect day to day decisions vs mental health vs beliefs that could bring up a great question about nature vs nurture.
  • But there wasn’t much in depth about how having so many siblings affected the authors life.
  • It reminds me of Iceland,where I heard they have an app that will tell you how closely related you are to someone you meet, because the island country is so insular that there tends to be a decent amoutn of interrelatedness…. Something focusing on that, or even how the author moves differently would have fit the name of the book better.
  • Again, I did really enjoy this book. It’s a fascinating look into a life different than mind. I just don’t htink it lived up to the promise of it’s title.

What it Pairs With: Chardonnay with ice cubes.Yeah, I have trouble spelling the word amount but can manage Chardonnay on the first try.

Rating: 3.5/5 Again, the book didn’t really deliver on what I felt was it’s promise. It was a great book with fascianting sections, just not quite what was marketed.

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