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Archive for the ‘abuse’ Tag

The Price of Knowledge   Leave a comment

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Educated by Tara Westover is one of the most emotionally difficult books I’ve read, but I couldn’t put it down.

The memoir recounts Westover’s journey as the daughter of survivalists in rural Idaho. The government was never to be trusted, neither were doctors or teachers. She never attended school; to say her mother’s efforts at homeschooling fell short is, at best, an understatement. Although hospital care was necessary a few times, the family relied on her mother’s knowledge of herbs.

For much of her life, Westover never questioned her family’s lifestyle. She had no basis for comparison. This isn’t the only aspect making this a challenging book. It was the physical and verbal abuse at the hands of her brother, Shawn. Her parents offered no protection.

Yet, Westover teaches herself how to study and pass the ACT with a score high enough to get accepted into Brigham Young University. From there she studies at Cambridge and Harvard universities, eventually earning a doctorate degree in history from Cambridge.

This is a gritty, heart-breaking narrative and Westover’s self-realization comes with a high price: she must either renounce her education or her family. When she refuses to give in to her parents demands, she is disowned, shunned by her most of her family. Her father’s fervent interpretation of the Bible doesn’t include anything close to acceptance or unconditional love.

Westover’s education extends beyond books and lectures. Her story reflects how much she gained once out of her family’s shadow and what she lost.

Educated
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Random House, 2018
322 pages

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Opposites Do Attract   Leave a comment

Rainbow Rowell’s story of young love overshadowed by harsh realities is humorous, haunting, and hopeful. Alliteration aside, Rowell’s Eleanor & Park is a study in contrasts and seems to prove that opposites do attract.

The omniscient narrator alternates between the couple. Although this approach doesn’t establish distinct voices, the characters are well-defined. Bits and pieces of Eleanor’s unhappy home life are slowly revealed while suggesting impending misfortune. Park, on the other hand, has two loving parents and lives next door to his grandparents. Eleanor is the new girl in school. She’s overweight, has bright red, unruly hair and dresses in a way that only the addition of neon could attract more attention. Park isn’t Mr. Popularity, but he does straddle the line between acceptance and rebuff. He’s part Asian, dresses all in black, but has known the kids in his high school all his life. When Eleanor sits next to him on the bus, he’s embarrassed, but friendship, then romance slowly, oh so slowly, begins to emerge.

Among Rowell’s themes are bullying and abuse; these create tension in the novel. The sense of something going awry is palpable. Yet, so are the more positive aspects of emerging love and parental concern. References to Shakespearean tragedy add a sense of foreboding; nonetheless, this is a tale dependent on hope. The title characters are different, likeable, and prove that appearances aren’t everything. It’s unfortunate they live in world where extreme differences aren’t always appreciated and where it’s easy to hide dangerous secrets.

Eleanor & Park
Four Bookmarks
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013
325 pages