Picks and Pans Review: Honest and Amazing Stories of Real Families

updated 11/28/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/28/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Po Bronson

[STARS 4]

Think your family's dysfunctional? Bestselling author Po Bronson (What Should I Do with My Life?) decided in 2002 that he wanted to "decode the mystery" of family relationships. Bronson gave the project three years, interviewed 700 people and found 18 fascinating families whose secrets are revealed here. Along the way, he unearthed enough juicy drama for 20 episodes of Oprah—homing in on the heartbreak and healing, the emotional tremors and transitions that are part of every family's saga.

Few readers will be surprised by the author's assertion that the face of the American family is changing. He notes that fewer than 23 percent of the 57 million married couples in the United States have children, and that disparate racial and religious backgrounds are no longer a rarity. It's what's going on inside those families that captures our attention; the book's strength lies in Bronson's depiction of the sometimes eccentric ways family members maintain their ties. Anne Jacobsen asked for and received her husband's permission to have an affair; Mary Garrett, a post office worker, never hugged her eight children but sacrificed beyond measure to send six to Ivy League colleges. Bronson's conclusion? "Real love...is a mere starting point." It's a theme worth exploring and a book worth reading.

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