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Cover painting by Sandra Dawson, cover design by Todd Cooper

Love is the foundation of family, but at what cost? After Ben Novotny is born with a rare chromosomal disorder that produces profound mental disability and brain-racking seizures, his parents, Caroline and Perry, and their two other children are asked to give more than they have. When Ben is an infant, the care and the fear are constant. The demands and pressure only mount when he and his older brother and sister become teenagers. Ben needs even more from his family, just as Hugo, the athlete and the “good soul”, and Ivy, the ambitious rebel, must carve out their own identities. Over the span of decades, this deep and understanding novel follow each family member, Perry and Caroline, Hugo and Ivy, as their lives diverge. In Degrees of Difficulty, grace is found amidst heartache, love finds a way after loss.

Starred Review in Kirkus

Review in Booklist

Q&A with Deborah Kalb

Review Hungry for Good Books

Interview Fiction Writer’s Review

About the Author:

Born and raised in England, Julie Justicz moved to the Bahamas when she was ten, and then to the United States as a teenager. She earned a law degree from the University of Chicago and received an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. As an attorney and advocate, Julie currently works on civil rights issues in Chicago. She lives in Oak Park, Illinois with her spouse, Mary, and their two children.


“Written with such tenderness and honesty, Degrees of Difficulty stole nights and weekends, as I found myself yearning to rejoin the journey of Ben’s family. What an astonishing debut.” 

— Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here: A Story of Two Boys Growing Up and An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago

“Haunting and visceral, Degrees of Difficulty asks how far we will go to care for the ‘difficult child’ within and without us. Moved and captivated, I couldn’t put the book down, as Julie Justicz deftly captures the pain and ultimate redemption of love and responsibility.”

—Emily Saliers, singer-songwriter with Indigo Girls

“Believable characters in a full, vivid world and a story both grounded and transcendent: what more could a reader of fiction ask? Style! Julie Justicz delivers.” 

—Abby Frucht, author of Polly’s Ghost, Life Before Death, Are You Mine? Licorice, Snap, and A Well Made Bed