When you pick up Tata Westover’s memoir Educated (2019) you better be ready for quite an experience. Tara’s story begins in the mountains of Idaho and makes its way to Cambridge University.
Tara, the youngest of seven children in the Westover family lived an entirely different life than most us reading her book. She was born at home, never attended school, surrounded only by her family, her view of life and how it was to be lived was dictated not only by her surroundings, but also by the views of her father.
Gene Westover was the head of the family. He expected each member to follow his rules and his beliefs. He was an isolationist by choice, his family was not. He kept himself and family off the grid because he had no trust of the government. Of course, that mistrust included schools, doctors, and any government documents, including birth certificates.
It was his view of the world, and his only, that Tara grew up knowing and accepting.
One very positive thing that can be aid about the Westovers is the fact they were hard working people. They really had no choice. Tara’s dad ran his version of a junkyard. He collected anything he could salvage or recycle to sell. He worked from “sunup until sundown in the week before the first snow.” But his junkyard was not a safe place to work, especially for youngsters.
When Tara’s brother left home to attend college, Tara was 10 years old. Tara was expected to help out in the scrapyard. It was dangerous and dirty. Safety was not a major concern of Gene’s, No hard hats or even gloves because they slowed the work.
Tara’s mother Faye did her part by reluctantly becoming a midwife. Helping the local midwife had been her only training. One good thing that came about from taking on that duty was obtaining a telephone in case of emergencies. Her mother was also very well known in the area for herbal remedies that Tara often help prepare.
Being a very isolated family, their way of life was rarely noted by and outsiders. That created a real problem when Shawn, an older brother, became violent and Tara was a favorite target. No one comes to her aid.
Tara decides she wants to go a different way and attend college like her brother Tyler. In order to do that she needs to take the ACT, a standardized test for college entrance. To take the ACT, she needs to know algebra. Having never been in school, Tara had to teach herself the necessary skills, including algebra. She eventually manages to earn a high enough score to enter Brigham Young University.
Leaving her home life behind and entering the university opened all kinds of new doors for Tara. It also created issues she never faced that others take for granted. She was just 17 years old when she entered a classroom for the very first time.
College was a real struggle for her. Tara had very little experience with social skills, the financial needs were an issue, even preparing for classes was a skill she had never learned. She failed a test and it was quite a shock to her. It was after a friend explained she needed to actually read the text book in order to prepare for the test, not just look at the pictures.
From that point on Tara’s time in college improved, she qualified for a scholarship. Even her social life took a turn for the better when she met Charles. He helped her see how the rest of the world lived and managed.
From the danger of a junkyard to studying at Cambridge University is an amazing leap. Some of Educated is difficult to read and take in. The physical and emotional abuse was disturbing to me. It is still a compelling story of how Tara recalls her life as a young child in the mountains of Idaho.
The next book is also about a strong girl and her parents with their unusual lifestyle, but in a completely different way.
Right from the start Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2012) by Maria Semple is one unusual read. It looks like a regular book, with words, characters, and a story line…sort of. I looked at it a more of an experience than that of a regular chapter 1,2,3, etc. novel.
Most of this tale is told through documents such as emails, texts, notes, phone calls, etc. over a period covering about a year’s time…I think.
When you first meet 8th grader Bee Branch it is through comments made on her grade card from Galer Street School. It is because of her grades Bee reminds her parents of their promise to give anything she wanted as a graduation present. Bee wants to go to Antarctica. They say yes!
According to the LOC catalog description this quirky read covers the following subjects: Women Architects-Washington (state)-Seattle, Missing Persons-Phobias-Antarctica-Mothers and Daughters-Domestic fiction. I cannot disagree with any of that information.
It is just that it can be a bit confusing about who is where and doing what! At least for me it was. Once I got into the flow of the book it did level out some.
Obviously from Bee’s report card one can conclude she is one smart 15-year-old whose mother disappears two days before Christmas without one word to anyone including Bee. Bee decides to try and find out what has happened. How? By reading through a large package of information/documents and piecing together the information.
Her mother Bernadette is a very creative, award winning architect. She was “green” before “green” was a thing. (You will understand when you read about her 20 Mile House). Just like most artists she sees things that those of us who are missing that creative gene fail to see. Her most creative work was done before Bee was born. Then, her husband Elgin, took a job with Microsoft and the family moved to Seattle.
With this move, Bernadette’s world seemed to shrink. She does not enjoy the company of the other mothers from Bee’s school. She calls them gnats. In an effort to avoid face to face time with anyone in Seattle, Bernadette hires an online personal assistant.
Elgin, Bee’s father, is known as a rock star in the halls of Microsoft. He is a genius in his area but rather out of touch with what goes on in his personal world Those who have watched his TED talks or work with him do not find it unusual that he walks the halls of Microsoft in his socks.
Piecing together the clues for the various documents comes to an abrupt end in Part 6 of this novel. Not entirely sure why that happens. It continues on with the story the regular story telling style. Humor is woven throughout all those documents as Bernadette’s tale is unwound. I have to say I rather enjoyed some of the snarky remarks made about some of the wealthy locals in the Seattle, an area I have never visited.
If you enjoy putting together 1000-piece puzzles, you will probably enjoy searching through the trail of clues in Where’s You Go, Bernadette. I would not label it a must read for everyone. It did make me laugh and it had touching moments. Reading it one time is enough for me.