Educated, by Tara Westover

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“This is not a story about being Mormon,” writes New York Times Bestselling author Tara Westover, at the start of Educated, a book that has been compared to narratives about cults. I’ll admit that I was intrigued initially, based on this description, but I was quickly won over by Westover’s candid and heartfelt account of her experience growing up in the mountains as part of a fundamentalist Mormon family. Readers who love a good, gritty memoir packed with excitement and a narrator that you can’t help but root for will love Educated.

Family Values

There were many elements of Tara Westover’s life that shocked and surprised me, to the point that I couldn’t set down the book, because I just had to know what would happen. The many visceral descriptions of abuse and other frightening moments in Westover’s life were fascinating to read about, but what stuck out as the most dynamic parts of the story were not her “escape” into more “mainstream” culture, but the relationships that she had with her family.

Even though Westover lives through some truly terrible moments at the hands of her older brother Shawn and her bipolar father, the view that she creates of her family feels balanced. No one is ever quite a villain in this piece, which makes them all the more endearing to read about. I think it is because she includes such tender, honest moments between these characters that they are made human in the readers’ eyes. Because I felt that Westover loved her family despite their flaws, I found myself loving them too.

A College Narrative with a Twist

Maybe it is because I went on to post-secondary education that I was attracted to the descriptions of Tara at College, but I liked reading about her experiences there. This section of the book had some particularly excellent tension, as I was constantly wondering how she would pass courses that required knowledge Tara did not have based on her lack of a high school education, or how she would pay for another semester when she was too broke to eat.

Even more fascinating was Tara’s point of view as a strict Mormon living for the first time with “gentiles.” It was a unique perspective to view and I found that while the earlier scenes featuring her family (and the many times that Tara was put in dangerous situations), this section had its own revelations that kept me turning the pages. I loved reading about her gentile roommates, who had to remind her to wash her hands, or the moment in a lecture where she didn’t know who Hitler was. Reading this section gave me a clearer sense of Westover’s struggle.

Read This Book

Deeply moving, raw and wild like the mountain that she hails from, Tara Westover’s Educated is a narrative that you won’t want to miss. I may have come for the sensational story about escape from a survivalist family, but I found that I never wanted to leave.

Have you read Educated yet? Feel free to share in the comments what you liked about it!

 

 

*Thanks to Netgalley for providing this Advanced Readers Copy!

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Miracles and Mountains, Or Finding the Fantastic in the Ordinary

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I was in the mountains when I first realized that miracles could exist.  Not in the biblical sense, the way I saw it, but in that visceral feeling you get when something is real and at the same time magical.

Our rental car on the ride up to Mt. Cook was a nice one.  One of those shiny, tank-like creations with the headlamps that look like cartoon shark eyes.  We’d been in the car for several hours, already and everywhere around us the fields had sunken into valleys so deep you had to crane your neck out the window to see the bottom.  Did I mention that we had forgotten our map in the previous night’s hotel room? Oh yeah, and (once again) we were feeling like we might have taken a wrong turn.

It started quietly at first, a flash of cotton speeding past my window.

I blinked. “Was that a bush?” I asked?

Except a moment later, two more muddy “bushes” sped past the other side of the car, their milk-coloured ears flicking, heads bobbing up and down as they ran.

Matt broke out into a laugh.  “They’re sheep!” he said, driving slower.

Sheep poured over the horizon, hundreds of them crowding up the nearby hills and in every direction of the road.

“It’s already two,” I said, trying to keep the nerves from jangling into my voice.

Matt turned off the engine.  Frowned.  “Hm,” he said.

“They’ll cancel our reservation!” I said.

Then he turned to me with one of his mischievous grins that got me hooked on him in the first place, opened the door and took off running down the road after the sheep.

“Move along little sheepies!” he hollered.  “Git! Git!”  He turned around to wave me out into the crowd, his wild, curly hair the only thing setting him apart from all of the wooly heads.

I laughed.  The spell was broken.

We did reach the mountains, eventually.  They were only around the next hillside, we soon learned.  Together, we looked up at Mt. Cook, stepping out of the car into the biting winter air.

It’s not like I hadn’t seen mountains before.  In Christchurch and the country that surrounds it the mountains rise out of the fields like silent spectators.  Can a mountain—or a herd of sheep—be a miracle?  Miracles, I think, are those ordinary moments that make you realize the wonders of the mundane.

This time, seeing the mountain was different.  It had the feeling of an end to a journey, the way Frodo must have imagined himself when he finally reached Mordor.   In a few short weeks, we would fly home and the future seemed uncertain.

“It seems far,” I said, as we headed down the boardwalk, the mountain looming icily before us.  I had to shield my eyes with my hand to see it clearly.

Matt jogged ahead, then stopped to peer at Mt. Cook himself.  “We can make it,” he said.

I smiled.  I didn’t know for sure if we could–make it, that is–but I took off down the empty path anyway.  “Maybe so,” I said.  “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Snapshots of Wisdom: Pythons, Spiders & the Uphill Climb

Photo by: Chen Siyuan

A couple of years ago, I was camping in the Australian Outback.  (You might have heard about my encounter with a python.  Spoiler alert: I totally won).  When I was there, my husband and I ended up doing a lot of hikes.

Fact: I strongly dislike hiking.

Fact: A sign at the beginning of the trail that claims to be a “moderate” hike is totally bluffing.

I can recall one hike where, amidst the poisonous neon blue spiders and the miles of searing hot sand, I was getting particularly tired of the uphill climb.  We had been hiking for a few hours now and as the unforgiving sun seared into the backs of our necks, I huffed and puffed my way through the rocky wasteland.  Might I add that we were totally and irrevocably lost?

“There’s no end!” I whined.  “We’re just going to be stuck out here forever!”

The husband was equally unimpressed, but ever the optimistic soul that he is, he insisted that we push on.  “The trail has to end sometime,” he said.  To which I replied “Yeah, when a crocodile has eaten us.”

Without a hint of irony, my husband said “In this part we’re more likely to die of heat exhaustion, I think.”

After some deliberation and a lot of backtracking, we did eventually find our way out of the sandy wasteland.  What we found was a pretty awesome sight:

Ubir, Australia

Ubir, Australia

Every once in a while, when I am knee deep in stories that don’t want to come together, I have to remind myself that all of the best adventures happen when we go a little further, step outside of our comfort zone and work hard to dig deeper.  It’s only when we force ourselves to keep going that we are rewarded.

Feed Your Muse # 6

feed your muse

 

Sometimes, getting started writing is all about getting past thinking about what a good story might be and just picking up the pen.  Here are a few prompts that have helped me get started.

1. Choose a random book from your shelf and open it to page 10.  Select the the first sentence at the top of the page and start writing.

2.  Go out for a walk around the block and take note of everything you see.  Write for ten minutes about one thing that interests you.

3.  Begin your scene with the words “Everyone knows that…”

Happy writing!

Snapshots of Wisdom, Or Quotes that Inspire

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, mostly of the author-advice persuasion.  In my literary odyssey, there have been several quotes that have in some way inspired me or at the very least made me smile.  Often, when I find a quote that I love, that kicks my butt into high gear and makes me want to write, I scribble it in a notebook.  I have loads of these notebooks, in piles, on my floor, under my bed…  Over the years, I have spent a lot of time recording these snippets of wisdom.  But here’s the thing: after they’ve been filed away in that mountain of ideas, I never read them again.  So instead, I’ve decided to add them to my ongoing writing saga in the hopes that not only will I read them to be inspired again, but maybe someone else will too.

By: Andrew Dunn, altered by myself

Natalie Goldberg’s notion of “composting” always inspires me to sit down with a notebook and scribble down as much as I possibly can.  I love the idea of gathering moments and letting them break down in our minds to become amazing stories.  It serves as a reminder to keep plucking away at the daily practice, because everything that we do, see, write has the potential to become something meaningful.  I think it’s a perfect reminder to be in the now and to focus on the small details that bring fiction to life.

Do you take note of the little details? What is your writing practice like? Or, if you don’t write, how do you stay in the moment?

Feed Your Muse #5

I don’t know about you, but when I’m stumped for a story idea, sometimes it is fun to imagine a situation out of a few odd items.  I once started a free write using the words “bird, aerosol and Persia” and got the better part of a novel (yet to be finished) out of it.  It’s exciting to see what develops when you aren’t trying to think of THE BEST IDEA EVER.  Isn’t it funny how the most strange and wonderful stories can float out of us when we are doing the dishes, tramping through the woods…skydiving…or any other sane (or insane) activities during the day?   What characters might come into the picture based on the scenario that unfolds? Sometimes it is best to let your imagination take over and see what it provides for you.

Here are today’s story starters:

1. Write a scene that involves a diamond, a blow torch and a pair of old stockings.

2. Write a list of all the terrible things that could possibly happen to a character.  Now write the scene.

3. Begin with the sentence “We were supposed to be in this together.”

See where it takes you! Feed your muse!