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A riveting, nuanced memoir of unforgettable characters thrown together by chance and DNA, this is a story of nature, nurture, and coming to terms with one's true inheritance.
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.
PRAISE & REVIEWS
"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 ("Book of the Week")
"Extraordinary"— The Guardian
“A wholly absorbing page-turner that everyone will want to read. You should probably buy two.”— Kirkus Reviews (★ Starred Review)
“The superdonor dad is far from the only extraordinary aspect of Bilton’s story. Most of her book is actually about her charismatic, chaotic mother who leaps off the page like the bold, blow-dried heroine of a big budget 1980s soap opera." —The Telegraph (5 ★s)
"I challenge you not to feel every emotion course through your body. At one especially astonishing plot twist, I gasped so loudly on a bus that the other passengers turn to stare." — Cup of Jo
"The powerful story of Debra willing her children into being with money and persuasion, doing her best to create a sense of family despite her hardships and addictions...A testament to the agency of her mother..." —The Washington Post
"This remarkable and wise book is actually two memoirs, braided together with such tendresse that readers will come to believe the ironic title in earnest." — Los Angeles Times
"Eloquently written and compulsively readable, Bilton's jaw-dropping coming-of-age memoir—and the love and survival found within its pages—is one readers won't soon forget." — Library Journal (★ Starred Review)
"Vulnerable and omniscient" — USA Today
“By turns hilarious, wrenching, and achingly tender, this is a memoir about family that turns the whole idea of family upside down.” —Susan Orlean, Author of On Animals and Rin Tin Tin
“This book had me absolutely riveted from beginning to end. Chrysta Bilton has woven an impeccable narrative about the explosion of love, betrayal, and addiction—not to mention the menagerie of animals—that made up her madcap and calamitous childhood. Normal Family narrowly escapes being a tragedy, redeemed by Bilton’s compassionate storytelling and unwavering love for her untraditional family.” —Stephanie Danler, Author of Stray and Sweetbitter
“Chrysta Bilton’s engrossing, wildly unpredictable memoir starts out as rollicking and suspenseful and only ramps up from there, becoming by turns frightening, riotously funny, and finally quite moving.” —Robert Kolker, Author of Hidden Valley Road
“Normal Family reads like a thriller, with its core mystery being the meaning of life itself: vividly specific but also universal, with family as protagonist and antagonist but always the hero.” —Ry Russo-Young, Filmmaker (Nuclear Family)
"I thought my family was complicated until I read Chrysta Bilton's wonderful memoir about the unique collection of irresistible characters in her life. Bilton has a big heart, gentle wisdom, keen eye and lovely wit. She's a gifted writer with an astonishing story to tell." ― David Sheff, author of Beautiful Boy
Fresh Air with Terry Gross: Normal Family Author On Uncovering 35 Siblings
The Guardian: Chrysta Bilton's Extraordinary Family Story
Vanity Fair: How Chrysta Bilton Discovered Her 35 Siblings and More Life-Changing Truths
The Sunday Times: The Day I Found Out I Had (At Least) 35 Siblings
Kirkus 'Fully Booked' Podcast: Megan Labrise talks with Normal Family author Chrysta Bilton
Cup of Jo: "How I Found Out I Had 35 Siblings”