A provocative exploration of the parent-child relationship, conducted by means of clinical tales about exceptional children. Garrison, a psychologist at the Children's Hospital National Medical Center, draws on a lifetime of professional encounters at various institutions (he alters names and details in order to conceal identities). To discover the meaning that children have in the lives of their parents, he looks at kids with special problems, believing that extraordinary situations illuminate all of human nature. Some of the problems are physical in origin: a short 15-year-old being subjected to hormone treatments because his parents desperately want him to grow tall; a child born with only half a face whose mother questions her motives in trying to make him appear normal; a pregnant teenager at risk for Huntington's Chorea whose father wants her to have an abortion; two teenage girls, both dying from cystic fibrosis, whose families have very different reactions to their illness. Then there's a disturbed child whose adoptive parents abandon him when they unexpectedly have a child of their own; a boy whose femininity embarrasses his father; and a child with autistic tendencies whose mother cannot accept him. Perhaps the most touching story of all involves an elderly couple who face the realization that their only child, now a middle-aged man with a schizoid personality, will never be the source of pride and comfort that they once envisioned. The stories are haunting, and though the children are special cases, many readers are likely to find parallels in their own experiences. Well-told tales that add to our understanding of what being a parent means.