Sunday, October 21, 2018

My take on: Educated

If Educated by Tara Westover was a fiction novel, I would think it was excellent. As a memoir, this was missing a level of believability and authenticity that I look for in non-fiction. My measuring stick for non-fiction is do I believe what I'm being told. I believe some parts of this book, but some were just toooooo far-fetched.

Tara Westover grew up in a survivalist, Mormon family. Tara grew up in the mountains of Idaho, with parents who were always preparing for the end of days. Her parents didn't believe in traditional medicine, her mother's herbs and oils were the only options. Tara and her siblings were all born at home, leading to them growing up without birth certificates or proper identification. Imagine not being able to prove who you are when you really need to? I certainly can't. Traditional school wasn't an option, instead Tara and her siblings were homeschooled by their mother. Working the land and making it work for you were how the family survived. Getting an education, getting a job, and integrating into regular society was not something to strive for. But some of her brothers did want out. They wanted to be free from their father's mood swings and his constant belief in conspiracy theories. They wanted an education.

Some of Tara's brothers got out. Her older brother Tyler wasn't built for mountain life, he loved books and music. He made it through college and encouraged Tara to do the same. How could she without any type of formal schooling? She studied and she studied hard for entrance exams. Against all odds she got into Brigham Young University, despite never having gone to any school prior. Going to college was a frightening experience but it was also a safe space. Another brother, Shawn, was becoming increasingly violent toward Tara. Almost to the point of killing her, all the while her parents did nothing to stop it. College was an escape. College was hard, but also eye-opening for Tara. She learned about psychology, history, mathematics, and grammar. History was particularly illuminating, as Tara learned about the Civil Rights Movement and the Holocaust for the first time. Professors and fellow students mistook Tara's ignorance of these topics as rudeness. But she genuinely knew nothing of these important moments in history because she had been taught that the outside world was evil.

Tara was getting an education, but she was stuck between two worlds. The one where possibilities are endless, and the other where only her father's word is the gospel. What do you do when you want both? You want your family in your life and you want a life of knowledge and opportunity. But what if one is more detrimental to your physical and emotional health? That is what Tara Westover was facing. That struggle is clear and believable throughout the book. What I struggled with is the description of several accidents and the subsequent medical treatments. Two of Tara's brothers and their father both have serious accidents, including severe burns of significant parts of their body. Going to a hospital, if at all, was a last resort instead Tara's mothers herb mixtures were the only forms of medical treatment. I firmly believe that modern traditional medicine does not have all the answers, but when it comes to burns and brain injuries I DO NOT believe herbs are the answers. I do not believe that a person could SURVIVE with herbs alone as medicine. That's where the story seems to venture from non-fiction to fiction. Those parts read like a novel not a memoir. I know truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction, but this book was lacking in believability for me.

Rating: Give it a try

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

My take on: I Know You Know

I love crime/thriller books and I'm on a bit of a run with those books right now. The last book I finished was by Karin Slaughter, clocking in at almost 500 pages. Generally I like to switch genres after I've just finished a book, but I made an exception with 
I Know You Know by Gilly Macmillan. With a title like that, there has to be a good story behind it.

This centers on two murder cases -- twenty years apart. In 1996, friends Charlie Paige and Scott Ashby were murdered and dumped like trash behind a dog track. A young man, Sidney Noyce, with the mental capacity of a 10-year-old was convicted of the crime, but there have always been doubts about his guilt. Fast forward twenty years and the same detective, John Fletcher, who found the bodies of Charlie and Scott, is working a new case with eerie similarities to the past. Fletcher has never forgotten about the case that made his career, especially since Charlie died in his arms. Now he must decide if the two cases are related. 

Memories of Charlie and Scott also haunt their best friend Cody Swift. He's convinced the wrong man was convicted of the crime. After years away from his hometown of Bristol, Cody has returned to confront the past and to learn what really happened to his friends. But at what cost? Dredging up the past can only open painful wounds. To get at the "truth" Cody starts a podcast, speaking with investigators, reporters, and relatives of Charlie and Scott. He will have to get people like Charlie's mother, Jess, to confront harmful memories. Jess has moved on and started a new family, and has no interest in speaking to Cody. 

There are a lot of layers to this book. Not everyone is what they seem. At first, Fletcher presents as an earnest detective. He believes with his whole heart that the right man went to prison. But with each chapter, it's clear the mistakes and liberties that Fletcher took with the case. He's not the most scrupulous detective, Fletcher is somewhat corrupt. He tries to stay on the right side of the law, but gets pulled in other directions. Jess is very much the grieving mother. She has deep regret for how poorly she raised Charlie, and is determined not to make same mistakes with her daughter, Erica. But even she is deeply flawed. It's understandable that she has no desire to participate in Cody's podcast, but her reasons are not completely genuine. She doesn't want to revisit the person she used to be, and she doesn't want Cody digging into her own actions the night Charlie died. Why? What does she have to hide and why? There are so many pieces to the puzzle, and it was intriguing seeing how the past connected to the present. Who is guilty? Who is innocent? What was the endgame? Why were Charlie and Scott murdered? What was the motive? It was a thrilling ride and I would definitely read another book by Gilly Macmillan. 

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours