Educated: A Memoir

By:  Tara Westover
Published:  2018
# of pages:  334
Challenge:  Full House (memoir), A to Z
Quote:  “To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s. I have often wondered if the most powerful words I wrote that night came not from anger or rage, but from doubt: I don’t know. I just don’t know.”


Goodreads description:

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.

My review:  This was an incredibly interesting memoir.  My mom had told me a little about it, but I wasn’t prepared for the shock of all the details put together.  I grew up in a conservative religious homeschool community and at the risk of exaggerating my upbringing or trying to “one up” Westover’s story, I could at times see some similiarities (thankfully not the violent aspects).  I’ve said it many times over the years, but I’m glad my parents weren’t as legalistic as many of the parents in our community and now I’m even more glad.  I’ve changed a lot over the years and while I’ve retained some of my upbringing, there’s even more I’ve left behind.  Times are changing and I have hope for the future.  Westover’s memoir gives me even more hope.

The sad aspects, besides what’s stated in the book’s description, is the confusion and heartache Westover experienced as she left her family behind.  I often hear people judging women who live in abusive environments.  Why don’t they leave?  Can’t they see they aren’t safe and their life is literally at stake?  If they obviously have the means to leave, what’s keeping them in the relationship?  This problem isn’t unique to Westover.  We’ve all heard about people who remain in abusive relationships and situations, as confusing as it seems to outsiders.  So Westover’s accounts of her struggle is incredibly honest.

I also appreciated the gradual change she made in her worldview.  Not everything she had been taught was wrong, but she had to analyze everything and come to her own conclusions.  Sometimes she admitted she didn’t have the answers and didn’t understand.  I think that’s a mark of a truly educated person.  I’ve tried to do that in my own life.  Religion, politics, lifestyles…I’ve had to think about all of that and accept that other people think and live differently.  Another quality of an educated person is to continue thinking about these things and being open to change.

I wish Westover happiness and acceptance in her future.  I also recommend this book to everyone because it’s important to realize that as foreign as her previous situation sounds to many of us, it still happens to people in this modern era in which we live.  Take it from me, it’s thought provoking and will make you think about your own upbringing, beliefs, and actions.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Well written, interesting subject, thought provoking.

The Blue Cotton Gown

The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife’s Memoir
By: Patricia Harman

Published: 2008

# of pages: 289

Quote:  “The couple had made the baby by accident and given him away on purpose, a gift to a family that couldn’t conceive. . . . I’ve never forgotten their courage.”  -pg. 60

Official description:Heather is pale and thin, seventeen and pregnant with twins when Patricia Harman begins to care for her. Over the course of the next five seasons Patsy will see Heather through the loss of both babies and their father. She will also care for her longtime patient Nila, pregnant for the eighth time and trying to make a new life without her abusive husband. And Patsy will try to find some comfort to offer Holly, whose teenage daughter struggles with bulimia. She will help Rebba learn to find pleasure in her body and help Kaz transition into a new body. She will do noisy battle with the IRS in the very few moments she has to spare, and wage her own private battle with uterine cancer.
Patricia Harman, a nurse-midwife, manages a women’s health clinic with her husband, Tom, an ob-gyn, in West Virginia-a practice where patients open their hearts, where they find care and sometimes refuge. Patsy’s memoir juxtaposes the tales of these women with her own story of keeping a small medical practice solvent and coping with personal challenges. Her patients range from Appalachian mothers who haven’t had the opportunity to attend secondary school to Ph.D.’s on cell phones. They come to Patsy’s small, windowless exam room and sit covered only by blue cotton gowns, and their infinitely varied stories are in equal parts heartbreaking and uplifting. The nurse-midwife tells of their lives over the course of a year and a quarter, a time when her outwardly successful practice is in deep financial trouble, when she is coping with malpractice threats, confronting her own serious medical problems, and fearing that her thirty-year marriage may be on the verge of collapse. In the words of Jacqueline Mitchard, this memoir, “utterly true and lyrical as any novel . . . should be a little classic.”

My opinion:  After reading The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman, I was eager to read The Blue Cotton Gown, one of her non-fiction memoirs.  I was eager to read more birth stories since she had put variations of real birth stories in her novel.  I wasn’t disappointed in the birth stories in The Blue Cotton Gown, but I do wish there had been more of them.  Harman follows several of her patients over the course of a year.  They aren’t all pregnant and they have many different physical and emotional problems.  I was impressed by how Harman cared about each of them, even when she didn’t want to.  I wish my midwives spent as much time with me and cared about my personal life so much that they would recognize me later.

The only thing I didn’t like was her attention to her and her husband’s financial situation.  It started feeling like a big pity party after awhile.  Sorry, but it was hard to feel bad for them when they have a vacation home on a lake in addition to their everyday house!!

There is a small amount of bad language.  Sexual descriptions.  Discussion of rape/molestation.  Miscarriages.  Graphic descriptions of the female anatomy and birth.  If this doesn’t bother you I definitely recommend!

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Harman has an interesting life and I enjoyed reading each of her stories.  However, I didn’t enjoy reading about her sex life or such a large amount about her financial situation.

Other reviews:
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Eat Pray Love

Eat Pray Love

by: Elizabeth Gilbert

Published: 2006

# of pages: 334

Quote: “And the ‘highways’ are horrible, made surreally dangerous by the dense, mad prevalence of Bali’s version of the American family minivan – a small motorcycle with five people crowded on it, the father driving with one hand while holding the newborn infant with the other (football-like) while Mom sits sidesaddle behind him in her tight sarong with a basket balanced on her head, encouraging her twin toddlers not to fall off the speeding motorbike, which is probably traveling on the wrong side of the road and has no headlight.” -p. 289 (thanks Elizabeth Gilbert for describing so perfectly what I always try to tell people about my travels to Indonesia!)

I’ve been hearing about this book for about a year now and have always been intrigued. Mainly by the title and the cover, but I sort of knew what the book was about and it sounded interesting too. I went to a used book sale a couple of months ago at the school my mom teaches at (it was a fund raiser). I saw this book and immediately grabbed it because it’s one I’ve been meaning to read, but haven’t felt motivated enough to check it out at the library and really get around to it. We just went on a vacation to New Orleans and I was unable to make it to the library before the trip. So I went to the pile of books I bought and this one called out to be read first.

This is a memoir by a woman who left her husband, her home, and her country behind to “find herself.” Finding herself meant finding her place (physically, emotionally, and mentally), what she enjoys, and how she connects to God. After her divorce she travels to Italy (eat), India (pray), and Indonesia (love).
In Italy, Gilbert…eats. It’s her pursuit of pleasure and as most of us would do if we wanted to solely pursue pleasure, she ate and relaxed. She made lots of friends, did some traveling, and ATE. It makes me want to go to Italy and eat too!! I also admire how she was able to put aside the guilt that often accompanies American women while eating. She does say that she was underweight before she arrived in Italy, but she also admits that she more than made up for it and even had to buy more jeans because she grew out of her regular pairs! I think she did a great job in Italy.
In India, Gilbert goes to an ashram (a place of Yogic devotion) where she spends the entire 4 months learning to pray and meditate. She does make some friends, but her conversations with those friends mainly consist of discussions of prayer and meditation. Although she does discuss more of her past… and how it is getting in the way of prayer and meditation. Blah. I wish I could say I enjoyed this part or admire Gilbert for her accomplishments, but I mostly found it boring. I was also a little annoyed that although she claims to believe that all paths and religions lead to God (they just all go about it in different ways according to her), she seems to be condescending about Western Christianity at times. If it’s equal to Yoga or Hinduism or whatever other religion, then why seem to sneer at it? I noticed that Gilbert seemed to scoff at several things American in the book though. Part of me understands this, sometimes I feel that Americans don’t have the same grasp of reality that the rest of the world has, but then again, I don’t think I’d go around claiming that all things are equal and have God in them and then do that. I am an open minded person and although I don’t believe that all religions and spiritual paths lead to God, I do understand why other people believe what they believe and I don’t expect them to be the same as I am.
In Indonesia (Bali), Gilbert tries to find a balance of pleasure and the discipline of meditation. I think she does a great job. She spends part of each day in prayer and meditation, but doesn’t let it consume her life the way she did at the ashram. She’s secure enough that she can also make friends and spend a lot of time hanging out with them or relaxing with a book or traveling around town. She connects to people a lot more in Bali, making two friends in particular, Wayan and Felipe. Because she’s so secure in who she is at this point, she’s able to give to these friends without getting lost in them. I found the descriptions of Bali to be fascinating!!! Their culture and the way they live…it’s so unique. I’ve been to Java before (Jakarta and a coastal town) and expected Bali to be like Carita, the beach town I visited. However, Bali is not predominantly Islamic and it has its own customs and traditions.
Overall I was disappointed in the book after hearing all of the hype. Gilbert’s writing style seemed almost juvenile at times. Sometimes it seemed pointless how selfish she was being. But I guess that was the path she HAD to take (although she didn’t really HAVE to, but she felt like she did, so same thing I guess). I’m just glad that not everyone needs to do that. It kind of makes me sad that she felt she had to do all of that stuff just to find happiness and contentment and her place in the world. Also that she had to do so much WORK to find God. But she did have an amazing adventure and met so many great friends, so even if she went out of her way to find God and happiness, at least it was worth it just for the friends she made.
When I was almost done with the book I saw the preview for the movie. I had no clue there was a movie in production!! I was watching it and suddenly realized why it seemed familiar….”I’m reading that book!” I’m actually really excited about the movie, I think it’s going to be better than the book. Of course, I’m a Julia fan, so that helps. But I think that the movie will take the best of each section of the book. Hopefully it won’t go into so much detail with the meditation…after all, they don’t want the audience to be bored watching someone chant and meditate. Anyway, definitely looking forward to that.
I recommend this to adults who enjoy memoirs and the contemporary non-fiction “finding yourself” genre. I also recommend this to people who love traveling/other cultures and enjoy reading about other people’s travels.

Other Reviews:

Have you reviewed this? Let me know and I’d be happy to post yours as well.

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle by: Jeannette Walls

Published: 2005

# of pages: 288

Quote: There are way too many to pick from!!

Walls did an excellent job writing a memoir that flows and feels like a story. Walls’ description of her life from age 3 through her adult years was just as action packed and gripping as a novel and is perfect for fans of memoirs and fiction alike.

A friend of my mom’s said she read this book with her jaw gaping open in amazement the entire time. I reacted the same way, especially during the first half of the memoir. Unfortunately, I found the second half more believeable, although it is still amazing that Walls lived in such terrible conditions and has created such a well-written account of her experiences.

This is a story of success, of perseverance, of love, and encouragement. Walls is an ultimate role model, especially for other people who have grown up in similar environments. I was struck by her common sense and cheered for her as she made bold decisions to change her life. I also admired how close she was to her older sister and younger brother. The love between the 3 of them was beautiful and if there was only one good thing about the circumstances they survived, it was that they were brought closer together through everything.

I 100% recommend this memoir to everyone. It is entertaining, heartbreaking, encouraging, and an eye opener to how some people live, even in modern America. It is also a lesson that although stereotypes may try to condemn a person to a life of hardship, there’s always a chance of breaking free and building a successful way of life.