The Anti-Romantic Child

Book: The Anti-Romantic Child: A Memoir of Unexpected Joy

Author: Priscilla Gilman, her writing has been featured in The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and The New York Times. This is her first book.

Genre: Memoir

Readers: University administrator Stacie, stay at home mom Colleen B., production coordinator Joanna and policy wonk  BakingSuit.

Summary:  Priscilla Gilman, a teacher of romantic poetry who embraced Wordsworth’s vision of childhood’s spontaneous wonder, eagerly anticipated the birth of her first child, certain that he would come “trailing clouds of glory.” But as Benjamin grew, his remarkable precocity was associated with a developmental disorder that would dramatically alter the course of Priscilla’s dreams.

In The Anti-Romantic Child, a memoir full of lyricism and light, Gilman explores our hopes and expectations for our children, our families, and ourselves—and the ways in which experience may lead us to re-imagine them. Using literature as a touchstone, Gilman reveals her journey through crisis to joy, illuminating the flourishing of life that occurs when we embrace the unexpected.The Anti-Romantic Child is a profoundly moving and compellingly universal book about family, parenthood, and love.

Read It If You Love: Romantic Poetry, Parenting Nonfiction, Confessional Memoir

Skip It If You Hate: Romantic Poetry, The Ivy League, Upper-Class Parents

For Book Clubs That Are Interested In: Memoir, Parenting, Special Needs  (Check out the Reading Group Guide)

Stacie  Bio

What an interesting book this was to read as a childless 30-something. Having waited to have children, I find it difficult to consider the possibility than when I do have a baby that he or she will be anything other than what I imagine to be perfect. Gilman takes the reader on an honest and intimate journey of how she confronted a different kind of perfect after discovering her first child was special needs. When I began to consider how to review this book, I was tempted to criticize her for seemingly selfish expectations, but then how could I praise her for her honesty? Her candor and openness about her frustrations, disappointments, and blessings are what makes this book great.

Grade: B+


Colleen B.  Bio

I can’t say that I didn’t like the book. Then again I can’t say that I did like the book. I just didn’t connect with it. It is not often that I come across a book that I just don’t get but this was one of them. I felt like she wrote about all the emotions she felt, but I didn’t feel them jumping out of the book. Maybe it’s because I didn’t understand her.

I believe everyone has romantic notions when it comes to having children. We all want to “do it better” than our parents did. We want to be our children’s best mom. Be their best dad. Be their advocate in everything that they do. Though I felt like Gilman had a larger than normal set of expectations in what motherhood was going to be like. Babies are babies. They are all going to cry, poop, and spit up. There is nothing “romantic” about that!

On another note; it honestly made me feel a little dumb with all those poetry inserts that I almost wanted to gag. I didn’t get it and found myself just skipping over every single poem she quoted. I understand that in her life she had a huge connection to Wordsworth but I could not relate with comparing every little thing in life to a poem.

This memoir is about two upper-class people going to posh colleges with posh life styles. Both of them getting stellar education at Yale University in English yet having a child who has hyperlexia. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a special needs child. I have 3 beautiful children with no emotional, social or educational problems and I can only imagine the heartbreak, toil and hardship that she has gone through parenting little Benj. My heart truly goes out to her and wishes her the best in the life to come.

I hate to give books low grades because I know that the authors work really hard on making it their best work. I just don’t know who I would recommend this book to, probably no one.

Grade: C-


Joanna  Bio

Author and one-time literature professor Priscilla Gilman wishes for her newborn son Benjamin the playful, highly imaginative childhood she herself enjoyed growing up. But soon it becomes apparent that Benj suffers from a developmental disorder, one that prevents him from fully engaging in the sort of creative and expressive play Gilman herself once experienced.

I imagine most would-be parents entertain fantasies of what their future child will be like, what character traits they will inherit, how their personalities will take shape over time. This book is largely about the disconnect between our expectations and reality; it’s about a mother’s longing for an ideal, magical childhood full of wonder and joy – and the crashing realities that come when life doesn’t exactly turn out the way she had hoped or imagined. By talking openly about her struggles with her son’s disability, Gilman shows others facing similar struggles and/or dramatic changes within their own families how best to cope, move on and learn to find the joy and love from even the most difficult of situations.

I am not a parent, but I am a lover of Romantic poetry and Wordsworth in particular, so it was the literary aspect of this book that first drew me. Having said that, I do think structuring the prose around Wordsworth’s poetry proved to be a bit of stretch in certain places – sometimes, the lines fit well with the author’s ideas, other times not so much. But in the end it wasn’t Wordsworth’s poetry that left an impression on me; rather, I was blown away by Gilman’s sheer capacity for love and her own emotional development, and I found her and Benj’s journey really inspiring.

Grade: B+


BakingSuit  Bio

In reading about this book I wanted to like it very much, but as soon as I started reading it, she started talking about Yale every other sentence. The constant mention of Yale gave it a pretentious vibe made it difficult like it at all. Also, her views on how motherhood ”should be” made me want to yell, ”Grow the heck up lady!” I think even MTV’s Teen Mom’s have a better concept of it.

She has what could be a good story but it’s continuously interrupted with her Wordsworth quotes that if you don’t like Wordsworth or are not familiar with his work its right its distracting. Ultimately, about half way through, I just skipped them altogether.

I ended up liking the story, at least once I skipped the quotes and skimmed over any appearance of the word, ”Yale”.  The last third made a good argument for re-examining your beliefs, but it took 2/3 of the book to even get me to want to finish it.

If you like Wordsworth or excessive quotes, you’ll likely enjoy this more than I did.

Grade: C-

Read Instead: Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Clueless by Susan Jane Gilman

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Thanks to Priscilla Gilman for providing us with copies of her book for our readers to review. You can see more about the book on her website, and you can follow her on Twitter or on Facebook.

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