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. 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.
The book takes time to find its footing ... Although Bilton says the book is based in part on written records, conversations and photographs, some aspects of Debra’s story seem implausible. Debra catalogs a long list of celebrity lovers and claims her rebuff of a sexual advance by Mick Jagger inspired one of rock’s most famous lyrics, a fact unconfirmed by music historians ... Bilton says she checked the facts of her memoir 'where I could.' Yet she makes some basic errors ... These oversights are regrettable, because when Bilton writes about her own experiences, away from the shadow of her mercurial mother, she shines a much-needed light on the impact of the secretive, unregulated world of sperm donations ... Bilton feels betrayed by her mother’s half-truths and her father’s broken promise, but stops short of examining the highly profitable, largely unregulated fertility industry that allowed a single man to father at least 35 siblings.
Normal Family is about one of the most atypical families one can imagine, and in that way, it's certainly a page-turner. For most of the book, readers will simply have no idea where this wild tale is headed. But it also demonstrates that the most normal thing in the world is for a family to have—and overcome—its secrets.