How can a reader measure a book that shares a slice of someone’s life? Does he focus on the story itself or the delivery of the written word? I’d argue a successful book can’t thrive without both working together like fingers on a hand. Tara Westover’s “Education” succeeds in giving the reader a compelling story that draws a reasonable person from the beginning to the end. Although, a reader may wonder if revealing the family skeletons is a price too high for literary success. (I don’t get the impression the book is written to backstab or clout chase.) However, in Westover’s case and for those who operate without fear it can be therapeutic and a moving message for other people on how to (or not) deal with toxic relationships from the ones you love most.
Tara Westover’s “Education” is a memoir about a Mormon woman who has no formal education. Instead, she grows up in a Mormon household, with a conspiracist (or bipolar) father who weaves and justifies his words and actions from his understanding of the bible. Her Mom, a successful herbalist, and midwife, failed (or chose) not to see the havoc unraveling in her household. And siblings: one an abuser, another who received his Ph.D. like Tara, and another who betrayed her own reality to continue to be in the good graces of her parents. I paint a quick picture of Tara’s family to say most of those relationships were severed as she grows to become a critical thinker and scholar.
Still, Westover takes an interesting approach to create her memoir. She doesn’t just rely on her own memories. Besides utilizing her journal entries as a youngster, she gathered the memories of her surviving relationships in order to give the audience vivid shared memories that sometimes have conflicting details. She handles those conflicting details with notes sprinkled throughout the memoir and a final one at the conclusion of the book. However, I wish this due diligence was applied when deciding to use the N word. Could the memoir still not be great with its omission?
Education is one of those rare books that lives up to the hype surrounding it. Previously, I taught a chapter in my writing class. Now I’ve drawn inspiration from it on how to reimagine and approach some of my own writing. Her world is starkly different from my own as a black man who grew up in Brooklyn (and still survives systematic oppression), but her journey to find her voice, herself, her education is a journey I too can relate. In other words, Education is worth the time reading.
Rashaun J. Allen is the first Fulbright scholar in SUNY Stony Brook’s MFA in Creative Writing & Literature program history. A Vermont Studio Center and Arts, Letters, and Numbers residency recipient whose three independently published poetry collections: A Walk Through Brooklyn, In The Moment, and The Blues Cry For A Revolution became Amazon Kindle Best Sellers in African American Poetry. He has been a 2019 Tupelo Press 30/30 Project Poet, nominated for Sundress Publication’s 2018 Best of the Net Anthology in Creative Non-Fiction and was a 2017 Steinberg Essay Contest Finalist in Fourth Genre. His writing has appeared in TSR: The Southampton Review, Tishman Review, Rigorous, Auburn Avenue, Poui, and River Styx.