So, I just now got to this book. I know. It has been around and talked about so much since it came out. I have wanted to read it this whole time, just not so much that I persisted in seeking it out. Then at our last library visit, there it was sitting on an end cap. Yep, now is the time. Snatched it right up!
As much as I use my Kindle and read online now days, there's a serendipity, a found delight, about going in person to a library that a virtual experience just can't replicate.
I am a shelf browser by nature. Sometimes I have specific books that I am looking for, but even in that case, I always just happen to see 3 or 4 others nearby that come home with me. I always check the displays and the "New" bookshelves, too.
Sometimes I don't even know what I want, so I just wander and see what catches my eye. Then when something does--it's free to take home! Just not the same on Amazon.
Anyway...to the review!
4 stars: Sad, disturbing, inspiring. So many things to think about with this one.
Tara's experiences growing up in rural Idaho, the youngest child in a family of far-right survivalists. She was "homeschooled," which included very little actual book learning and a whole lot of working for her dad in the junkyard. Her parents didn't believe in doctors, so even ghastly injuries were treated at home with herbal remedies. They believed the government was evil, and guns were good.
This is her journey toward breaking free from the constraints of her upbringing and coming into a new and different understanding of herself, her family, and the world.
* * * * *
So many thoughts about this book. Lots to unpack here. I should start by saying that I've got a lot of family in the little towns in Idaho that she grew up in and near, including my parents, plus aunts, uncles, and cousins on both sides. I did not grow up there but have visited countless times over the years. That connection made Westover's experiences extra interesting and poignant to me.
In addition, I am also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I could relate in that way to her story, though not all of the doctrine as she talks about it matches up with what I believe or was taught. She was homeschooled. I am currently homeschooling our 4 children. They were survivalists. We consider ourselves to be prepared, but I wouldn't go so far as to call us preppers. However, there were some similarities there.
One way we diverge widely from her family is belief in government and the medical establishment. They feared and resented both. We do not. My husband is a doctor! We don't love the government, but we do what we must to get along with it. Along those lines, some of those injuries--wow. The doctors I know--including my husband--don't claim to have all the answers, but they do use proven methods and medications. How many problems could have been taken care of if their various ailments and injuries had been treated? First and foremost, her dad's mental illness. That alone could have changed the whole trajectory of all of their lives.
Her father rules over the family. It was hard to read about him claiming to have received revelation for his family but with ideas that led them further into extremity. For instance, at one point he decided that dairy products were evil, so they got rid of all of theirs (Tara would slip down the hill to her grandparents' for cold cereal and milk in the mornings.) The shootout at Ruby Ridge was a story told over and over to the children and they felt a real sense of fear: if it could happen at Ruby Ridge, they could be next. So many decisions based on fear, but under the cover of faith.
Tara also recounts physical abuse at the hands of her older brother, and another brother who got out and went to college against all odds. When she finally did make it to college--also against great odds--her ignorance and different upbringing made so many things hard for her. Her family vehemently denies (to this day, according to my mom), that any of this happened the way she said it did.
I thought her account was even handed. She tried to show the good as well as the bad, even as at times she doubts her own memory. It sounded like neither set of grandparents believed the same way Tara's family did. Her one grandma-down-the-hill tried to take her away with them to Arizona for the winter, to go to public school there. Even her abusive brother protected her sometimes and saved her life from a runaway horse at one point.
Her observation towards the end, of the chasm that has split their family--between her and 2 brothers who left and the ones who stayed--was especially telling. Those who left all have PhD's, none have returned to live in Idaho, they are mostly estranged from the others. Of those who stayed, none have a high school diploma, the boys and son-in-law work for their dad in the junk business, or for the mom in her essential oils business. Back at home, the drama and dysfunction goes on, while Tara and the other 2 seem to have found a measure of peace away from it all.
My recurring thought throughout the whole book was: how was this allowed to go on? How did these kids slip through the cracks? Obviously, homeschooling had a lot to do with that--there were no teachers checking up on them or calling CFS--but these are warm, close-knit communities. How did no-one in her church ward notice what was happening? Or maybe they did or made attempts to help but she just didn't include that? Or her parents were just really good at putting on a good face, maybe? So many questions. They were pretty much estranged from most of the extended family, it sounds like, with strained relationships between her parents and grandparents on both sides. I don't know. How? That's what boggles my mind.
Finally, having read this book, I can understand my mom's hesitation when I told her we would be homeschooling our kids! If this type of homeschooling was all I had ever heard about, I would be very concerned as well.
Now I need to go call my cousins.
Content: A few cuss words, plus some very graphic descriptions of horrible injuries. Seriously, they would keep me up at night if I let them.