Motivated by her discovery as an adult of significant secrets her mother had kept from her (a previous marriage, her father's serious illness), Webster, a Massachusetts journalist, here collects stories of other ``adult children'' who were shielded or deceived by their parents. From these stories and her own experience she concludes that such untruthfulness, no matter how kindly meant, is always destructive to the child's emotional health. There are accounts here of children learning late in life that they had a brother or sister, or that their father was not really their father, or that they were adopted. A parent's or grandparent's mental illness, suicide, homosexuality, alcoholism, affiliations with organized crime, incestuous behaviorthese are some of the other denied truths that those interviewed by Webster grew up with and blamed themselves for, or at least for not being worthy of knowing the facts. Unfortunately, the stories are recounted flatly, which makes it hard to keep characters straight, much less get a sense of them as human beings, and diminishes the sometimes nearly incredible drama of the events reported (one young man was sexually molested by his grandfather, father, and mother). But the book's major flaw is pointed out by Webster herself, who says she is not a psychologist and therefore can't advise people on exactly where to draw the line between healing candor and burdensome imposition of truths too heavy for children to bear. Had Webster consulted a psychologist or two and incorporated their viewpoints, this might have been a more helpful book. As it stands, readers are left to conclude for themselves from these stories how honest to be with their children, and when.
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