I’ve just plowed through the latest North Cat Villas book club selection in record time. If there’s one thing I can say about this book, it’s that you have a hard time putting down Educated: a Memoir, by Tara Westover.
Anita and I were just discussing the cover, and we decided it’s a winner. I feel a bit silly that I didn’t realize the pencil is a picture of a girl on a mountain (the mountain is my favorite character in the book, too!). I enjoyed a story about what meetings about book covers were like when she worked in publishing. That pencil should be yellow! People expect a yellow pencil! No one will understand that woman (or see it)! Etc. We are glad the cover artist got their design through.
Note: I am going to share some details about the events in the book, so skip if you don’t want spoilers. But I honestly don’t think knowing any of this would detract from enjoying Educated.
About the actual book
Anyway, the best thing about Educated is that you just can’t put it down. Tara Westover led such a horrible life that you just wanted to get to the part where she gets better and ditches her severely messed up family out on that mountain in Idaho.
The worst thing about the book, at least for me, is that it is populated by a bunch of the most unlikable and dysfunctional people on this earth, and this is coming from someone who, um, has her own family mental health issues and quirkiness to deal with. There were a couple of very patient friends, and eventually a few family members who ended up okay (and that’s a miracle).
And I know this book is a memoir, so at least some version of the events in Westover’s life are true, but I had a hard time believing that her parents ever succeeded at anything, much less started an empire in tinctures and oils. I guess that’s an important thing to remember: no matter how counter-intuitive someone’s world view may be or how deep their mental illnesses run, it doesn’t mean they can’t be clever and highly intelligent about other things.
What struck me the most about the book was something I’ve seen and heard about so many times in families where there’s abuse: people bending over backwards to defend abusers, even to the extent of re-framing their memories to make things the victim’s fault. I wonder if a lot of that is done just to enable people to take one step at a time and move forward without falling into a pit of despair. Westover’s family, though, were so well schooled at creating alternate realities that it probably came easy to them.
And finally, while I did enjoy the book and Westover’s writing style, she made me really uncomfortable sometimes. She is SO honest about how she continues to want her family’s love and approval, no matter what, that I still fear for her current self. The honesty itself is refreshing. I am sure her editors would have wanted her to say she’s all better now, but she makes it clear that her issues run deep. I don’t blame her at all. She’s human and a product of her past, like all of us.
In the end, I recommend this book as a fascinating insight into how people can survive in the USA with a culture of abuse and neglect. I’m glad Westover was able to stand outside of her experience enough to share it with us. Just be prepared to want to go shake some sense into many of the people in her life.
PS: Thanks to Anita McCabe and Cindy Kelly for your thoughts on this book.