Laura Z. Hobson's novel chronicled thirteen years in the Lynn family's life, whereas the film covers roughly one year. The family's surname was changed to Lynd for the film.

The character of Tess (Marlo Thomas), a city-dwelling book editor in the novel, was transformed into a suburban stay-at-home mother in the film - ironic given Thomas' penchant for spotlighting feminism in her work.

The novel on which the film is based was set in New York City, which appears incidental until author Laura Z. Hobson gears the story's climax to erupt during the police riots in the Stonewall Inn, the famous Greenwich Village bar that is cited as the birthplace of the gay rights movement. The film version takes place in Seattle in the year 1985, which robs the story of one of its most powerful arcs, the fact that Jeff's coming of age parallels the birth of the gay revolution.

Laura Z. Hobson admitted that her novel closely paralleled her own process in accepting her son Christopher's realization that he was gay.

Following her run on TV's "That Girl," Marlo Thomas had famously taken seven years off to study acting seriously, and positive critical response to her performance in "Consenting Adult" (1985) was confirmation that she had matured. Her efforts truly paid off the following year when she won an Emmy for her unexpectedly harrowing performance in "Nobody's Child" (1986).

In the novel, Jeff has two older siblings, a sister and a brother. In the film, he has only a sister, sensitively portrayed by Talia Balsam. Much of Tess and Ken's marital tension in the book stems from their very polar handling of the crisis based on their divergent upbringings (his Protestant, hers Jewish), which results in Ken's inability to break silence. The influence of ethnicity is not addressed in the film.