Book Reviews/Discussions

Book Discussion: Educated: a memoir by Tara Westover

My book club met this week and we had read Educated.  Although I found the book interesting and Westover an engaging writer, certain aspects of the book were disappointing.  First, it bears more than a passing resemblance to The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. This is not a reason not to read it, of course, but I wonder a couple of things.  

**How many memoirs by abused/neglected children of poverty in dysfunctional families do we need? This is not to minimize anyone’s suffering, nor to object to a light being shown on aspects of the American experience that need more attention. At what point do we become callused to the horrific stories of the children who managed to escape?

** As has been noticed before, America loves an underdog. We love to read/hear/watch the stories of people who made it against the odds, because it means that anything is possible for anyone in America.  It means that if you have the gumption/grit/intelligence, you, too, can succeed. However, we like to ignore the fact that those who manage to succeed are really outliers. There are plenty of smart, determined people who don’t make it.  They don’t have the lucky break, the mentor, the roommate/sibling/friend who helped them defeat the odds. It is true that the story arc would be more challenging and the ending less neat, but what if someone wrote a memoir about being one of the unlucky ones?  Would it even get published and if it did, would anyone read it?

**Then I saw this article in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/01/opinion/vance-westover-trump.html and I was more than a little insulted.  I live in rural America and I grow weary of East Coast Entitled Intellectual Elites lumping all of us in “flyover country” together as if we were one large basket of dummies.  If we would just be more like Tara and J. D., we would get a clue and our lives would be great. No worries about money, jobs, dying small towns, etc. Newsflash: it isn’t that simple.  Shocker: some of us are actually educated; we aren’t all rubes and survivalists. And some of us are REALLY tired of being condescended to. Life is complicated, and we didn’t all get the brass ring…but I digress. All of rural culture isn’t toxic, and by the way that word is totally overused.

Here are some discussion questions to think about if you or your book club are reading Educated.

  1. How much do you think is left out of the story?  Do you think there was physical abuse of Tara’s mother?  Why or why not?
  2. Why did the family continue to allow Shawn’s obvious abuse and violence? What would have been the price of  speaking up?
  3. When Tara’s father brings home the shearer, one of her brothers refuses to run it before Tara is ordered to do so.  Why did he feel able to refuse their father and Tara did not?
  4. Why do you think Tara was so reluctant to get help once she got to BYU? Why did her professor push her to apply for the program in Cambridge?
  5. Imagine an alternate ending to this story.  What would your alternate ending be?