Friday, April 13, 2018

Nonfiction: Educated by Tara Westover

I received Tara Westover's Educated as part of a giveaway on Goodreads. Although it was already on my to-read list, all book lovers know how easily that list gets out of hand, and sometimes great titles can still be overlooked. Receiving it for free from my favorite book website simply helped guarantee it a spot on this blog. And its focus on a young girl from a survivalist family who does not step foot in a formal classroom until she is 17 is what garnered my interest in the first place. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a nonfiction book, more specifically a memoir, in which Westover talks about her life and how it was shaped by her family and their belief's, as well as the effects of her father's mental illness. Westover grew up on a mountainside in Idaho, and was raised by Mormon parents who did not believe in public education, government assistance, or modern medicine. Her father firmly believed that to visit a doctor was to turn against the Lord, and even worse than someone who saw doctors was someone who tried homeopathic remedies, while also visiting doctors to seek their opinion. It was either one or the other. So Tara would grow up more or less homeschooled before acquiring admittance into Brigham Young University at the age of 17. She would eventually go on to receive a PhD from Cambridge, just as the book jacket says, but that is not really the point of the book, or even the point about education. It would take years, and much counseling, before Westover would realize that the education she missed out on was the ability to own her own memories, reality, and identity. Sure, she would not hear about the Holocaust or the Civil Rights Movement until college, but she also would be made to question her own memory of tragic and abusive events in her life, and the part some of her family member's played in that tragedy and abuse.  

My Verdict: This book had everything that a memoir should. It was honest; it was interesting; it offered a different look at life that we usually do not get to see; and it was filled with doubts over the author's memories, yet filled with a certainty that not only did those things happen, but they had an effect that some may want to deny, but they are only lying to themselves if they do. Be warned though: This book will infuriate many, trigger some, and cause great heartache for a fair amount of readers. It is a reminder that the people closest to us sometimes hurt us the most, and then they will claim it was for our own good. It is also a reminder that healing rarely comes quickly, and that education is a life-long journey, not a destination, and certainly not something contained within a school. Well-written and hard to put down, Educated is even more fascinating than the book jacket suggests. 

Favorite Moment: Any moment when someone in authority, whether it was a religious figure, a counselor, or a school administrator, exhibits faith in Westover's abilities and intelligence, whereas her father would do what he could to keep her at home working for him, and her mother would only mumble in agreement.

Favorite Quote: "I had started on a path of awareness, had perceived something elemental about my brother, my father, myself. I had discerned the ways in which we had been sculpted by a tradition given to us by others, a tradition of which we were either willfully or accidentally ignorant. I had begun to understand that we had lent our voices to a discourse whose sole purpose was to dehumanize and brutalize others - because nurturing that discourse was easier, because retaining power always feels like the way forward." - Westover on her brother's casual use of the word "nigger" as an insult, after learning in class what the word actually represents.  

Recommended Reading: While Educated is mostly set in Idaho where Westover grew up, Ruth Wariner's story as told in The Sound of Gravel takes place in Mexico, where she also grew up in a Mormon household in an environment of abuse and control.   

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