I host a book club at my office/job where we pick one book per quarter to read and discuss. This time it was Educated by Tara Westover. In the past we have done:
As we settle around the table someone mentions how long it has been since she read the book and not sure how much she will remember, but then realise there are some scenes in this book she will never forget and a general nod of agreement goes around the table.
The most interesting memoir we have ever read! It was well written and very interesting.
We were all pretty pissed off at the car accident, especially the 2nd car accident. Some said it was difficult to read these scenes and the resulting injury descriptions. The most annoying thing was the dad’s total lack of believe in the health system for such serious injuries. His total faith in God and his wife’s healing power put all his children in danger. They all survived with scars to show for it, but that just shows how resilient the human body is.
Also, these scenes show the state of the American health system and the widely accepted healers are with their creams and potions which will make you better. As Tara mentions in the book, as a child she took Lobelia for pain, it never worked but she got a respect for pain through it.
It sometimes felt like the dad preferred to live on the edge to prove his point that God was watching over them and protecting them and to affirm his faith in being on the right path in life.
We all agree that it was annoying the dad survived the burns. We all hoped that he wouldn’t make it. If this was fiction, he wouldn’t have.
The dad’s total lack of faith in the medical system did not override his wife’s feelings though. The mother knew when their limit was meet and took her children to hospital at the worst times. But this was never mentioned again as if it was painful to talk about. It seems like the dad respected his wife enough to allow certain things.
Talking of respect, it seemed like the dad only respected people he could control. He didn’t have respect for his children until some had proved themselves or submitted as an adult to his way of life.
We all agreed it was very annoying that the parents became so successful, and how the dad always took credit for it even though it was his wife’s success.
It was interesting how there was also some smaller bits of normality in her life too with the dance and singing. Tara was good at singing which somehow made it ok for her to do even in a small skirt on stage in front of the whole town. This probably leads back to the dad’s mental state. The positive feedback of her singing abilities feeds his pride, his need for control, and his need for feedback that he is on the right path. Besides Tara was his child and his blessing and God makes no mistakes. He therefore ends up sitting on the front row every show, first to buy tickets, and drives her to rehearsals.
The bad brother, Shaun, was an interesting but scary character. He was very abusive person, and it was interesting how he was “nice” to Tara until she came into puberty. Then the abuse was put on her too, not just his girlfriends. Shaun is the mini-me of the dad and it goes to show how abusive behaviour and mental health issues goes through generations.
We discussed a lot the family dynamic and Shaun’s role, but also the mental health of the family.
As anti-commercial as the family was including Shaun, it was funny how he paid lots of money for a pedigree dog… then killed it when the timing was right.
Several of us thought Shaun had raped his sister. But the description in the book never mentions it directly. We question whether it happened or not and if she really would have mentioned it if it did happen. We all agreed the scene made us all (we’re all females) very uncomfortable.
Tyler was the kind one of the family and the one with least mental health issues. We liked him even though he was distant for most of Tara’s problematic times. But he was there in the end.
With 3 out of 6 children ending up with a PhD and the other 3 barely able to read, we questioned whether the dad was right about education after all, or if he was so wrong about it all that it flipped itself on its head? We question whether the lack of primary education and Tara’s introduction to school at college/university level gave her an advantage. By starting at university level, she wouldn’t have been burned out or saturated in school. She wouldn’t have been sick of it as it was all new to her; did that make her so successful?
The children who stayed are now financially and reputably depended on their parents. The children how left got PhD’s and well-paying jobs and gained both financially independence and a distance for their family name and the effect of that.
Overall, it was interesting how religion was so normalised did in this book and everyone did it with different levels of commitments, but she never really mentions non-religious people.
It was interesting how Tara’s mental breakdown at university was written and described. It was realistic and well written. It was short and precise and the difference in the text from before, during and after the breakdown was very efficient.
Lastly, the sexism in the book was annoying. It was all about how her womanly curves should be hidden, how she shouldn’t be a whore and how she kept thinking these thoughts throughout her life. She couldn’t touch a boy’s hand without feeling like a whore and cringing at the touch. She couldn’t wear a t-shirt without thinking it, or a skirt above the ankle. BUT she could do a man’s job at the scrap yard because anyone can do that, she just had to wear a loose jumper for it.
Several people did an image search the family to get faces for these people either during of after the read out of curiosity.
The entire book felt a bit unrealistic and her life was slightly unrealistic, but true. If this book was fiction you wouldn’t believe it and the debate would be different.
At the end some people were a bit confused. They had questions and didn’t like how Tara never gave her own personal opinion about stuff like religion, mental health and abusive people. But then again, the confusion makes you think critically about the story and should be a good thing.
In the end, it was a good recommendation and an interesting book!
Book club meeting success!!
Until next time; happy reading!