Educated – A Memoir by Tara Westover

Educated – A Memoir
Tara Westover


Imagine growing up in isolation, with a father who regarded the government with paranoid distrust, who prepared the family for an impending apocalypse by stockpiling food, fuel and ammunition and “head for the hills” bags. Who made his children work with him in a dangerous scrap yard, where they were often severely injured.  And who manipulated them with his skewed interpretation of the Mormon faith. With a mother who only occasionally homeschooled her seven children and deferred to her husband, despite being the primary breadwinner as a midwife and natural healer. With a violent and abusive brother. Could you get out?

Tara Westover did, but at a cost. She taught herself enough math and grammar to be accepted at Brigham Young University, stumbled on her ignorance, but eventually gained her footing and began reading and learning. Her pursuits took her to Cambridge and then to Harvard, where she earned a PhD. The cost was estrangement from half her family. The half that denied there was anything wrong.

Education is Westover’s memoir, an account of these years in which she left her home in the mountains of Idaho. She tells her story of universities and degrees, but more importantly, she describes her education about family, mental illness and abuse. And then she explains what she did about it, how, inch by inch, she moved away from both her father’s and her brother’s strongholds.

Educated is a fascinating description of a life that is nearly impossible to envision. As a reader, you can’t imagine how to get into college with no schooling. Westover may not have understood the abuse and dysfunction at age sixteen, but she knew enough that she had to get out. The most absorbing part of her memoir, however, is how she began to recognize her father’s behavior as mental illness. But suspecting this didn’t change the danger of her brother’s abuse, which was both mental and physical. Most disturbing was how she reached out to her mother and sister and how they didn’t back her up.

I enjoyed reading Westover’s story, however, I would have been interested in knowing more about her college and later years, including her relationships with other students and new friends. I finished the book wondering what she’s doing right now. I think these details would give the reader a better understanding of who Tara Westover has become. It’s interesting to watch her book tour interviews and you can check out this Christiane Amanpour interview on CNN here. Westover also has a beautiful signing voice. You can listen to Tara Westover sing a Mormon hymn on PBS NewsHour here.

I recommend Educated to readers to enjoy memoirs and autobiographies and also those who like reading about overcoming adversity.

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What’s on your reading wish list?


Although I’m busy with my Summer Reading Challenge, here are a few books on my wish list:

The Nest

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

D’Aprix’s debut novel about four adult children’s dysfunctional family and their joint trust fund.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

Benjamin’s new novel about New York’s socialite Swans of the 1950s: Slim Keith, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness, and Pamela Churchill.  Everything changes when Truman Capote enters the scene.

The Widow

The Widow by Fiona Barton

Here’s another debut novel:  a story about being the perfect wife to a man accused of a heartless crime.

My Name is Lucy Barton

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

One of my favorite writers!  Mother and daughter come together after many years as they confront the tension in their imperfect family.

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Paul Kalanithi, age thirty-six, was just completing his training as a neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.  In his book he asks, “What makes life worth living in the face of death?”

Have you read any of these?  What’s on your list?

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The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

The Good Girl
The Good Girl
Mary Kubica



I enjoy unraveling a story and figuring out what motivates characters and this story is full of things to analyze.  While the The Good Girl is a bit of a mystery, I’d describe it more as a psychological thriller in which the main players are good and bad, have grown up in dysfunctional families and have complicated ideas about love and family.

The story begins when Mia Dennett, a 24-year-old art teacher, doesn’t show up for work.  Her father, James Dennett, a wealthy and influential judge in Chicago, uses his connections to build an investigative team.  Then he goes back to work while Mia’s mother Eve sits at home and worries.  Gabe Hoffman is the detective on the case.  He has a chip on his shoulder and is determined to find Mia if for nothing else than to improve his credibility.

Because the book is structured with a “Before” and “After”, the reader knows a little about its resolution, however, the “After” is full of complications, some of them predictable and some surprising.  It is told through the points of view of Eve, Gabe and Colin, the man responsible for Mia’s disappearance, and it isn’t until late in the book that the reader begins to fully understand her.

I enjoyed most of the story, bought into Mia’s character and developed sympathy for Colin, however, I don’t think the ending’s surprise twist fits the story.

But the author’s poor decision to describe the previously unseen villain in the Epilogue as “black, like the blackest of black bears, like the blubbery skin of the killer whale” ruins what could have been an entertaining read.

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What’s up next? The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

The Good Girl
I’m in the mood for another suspense thriller and The Good Girl is already grabbing me, making me wish I didn’t have so much to do today!  The Good Girl is a fast-paced story about Mia Dennett, a young art teacher from a wealthy family, and her mysterious disappearance from a Chicago bar.  As the investigation continues, I’m having a good time figuring out the Dennett family’s dysfunctional dynamics.

The Good Girl is Mary Kubica’s debut thriller, published in 2014.  Pretty Baby was published in 2015 and her newest book, Don’t You Cry was released this month.

Click here to read more about these books on Amazon.  You can visit Mary Kubica’s website at

Do you like suspense and psychological thrillers?  Which ones have you read?

Here are a few I’ve already enjoyed:

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith


Eating Bull by Carrie Rubin

Eating Bull
The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner

Check back soon for my review.

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A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

A Sudden Light
Garth Stein


There’s a hidden stairway, Trevor, and if you find it and strike a match, you will see an apparition in the sudden flash of light. The Ghost of Riddell House.

I really enjoyed reading A Sudden Light, Garth Stein’s latest book. It’s a story about a nearly broken family that is trapped in generations of dysfunction, haunted by unsettled ghosts and spirits. Trevor Riddell is fourteen in 1990 when he travels to Seattle, Washington with his father, Jones. It’s a trial separation for Trevor’s parents. Their finances have collapsed and they’ve lost their home in Connecticut. His mother, Rachel has moved back to England for the summer, she says. And besides his crumbling marriage, something else is not right with Jones. He’s shaky and preoccupied and driven by some unnamed thing.

Jones is there to help sell Riddell House, a deteriorating mansion built by his great grandfather, Elijah Riddell, a prosperous logger and shrewd businessman. Jones hopes the money will save their family. But first he must confront his father, Samuel, who sent him away at sixteen, and his sister, Serena, who was just a girl when he left. Easier said than done. Samuel is often confused, Serena is a little bit creepy and there are noises in the house at night.

Trevor believes that the only way he can save his parents’ marriage is to discover the secrets of both the Riddell mansion and his strange family. As he searches the house for clues, his discoveries only lead to more questions about the relationships between Jones, his mother, Samuel and Serena, and between Elijah and his two sons, Benjamin and Abraham, and about Benjamin’s sudden death. And then there’s Ben’s secret relationship, the one that tears him apart. There are plenty of twists, but it all comes to a head in the mansion’s ballroom, a place where Jones’s mother loved to dance.

I learned the difference between ghosts and spirits in this story. Spirits have already passed through the light, but ghosts are trapped. To help me understand, I found an interesting article entitled “The Differences Between a Spirit and a Ghost.” Check it out if you want to know more about these different forms of afterlife.

Elijah Riddell built his fortune in Seattle logging, a business that destroyed thousands of acres of forests. Stein’s story questions the ethics of actual businessmen like Elijah, who made their millions off Washington’s resources at the turn of the century.

I like the themes and ideas Stein presents in this story. The importance of touch, between people and between people and nature. The feeling of life and the spiritual energy we get from nature, and the idea that we are all connected, through generations. It’s a peaceful idea.

It’s hard to categorize A Sudden Light. I’d describe it as modern, Gothic, paranormal, popular, dysfunctional family fiction. It reminds me a little bit of Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontё. Why? No spoilers here!

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