Our personal demons rarely make for interesting conversation or gripping storytelling. I often can’t sleep this time of year because of mine, but I try to talk about them only when I can’t really avoid it. Even then, I’ve never found that sharing actually helps me or the other person much. But the extra time I’m awake at night can come in handy, giving me a bit more time to read outside my box.
I don’t read that many memoirs, so maybe this kind of story is more pervasive in the genre than I realize. For reasons I can’t exactly pinpoint – maybe because it’s about a woman overcoming – this reminds me a bit of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild without the hiking disasters. (In looking at a few reviews just before I posted this, I realized a lot of other folks have made that connection. Hmm.) It’s an amazing book, but I know that some patrons who enjoy stories about abuse survivors will enjoy it more than I did.
There’s a certain kind of reader who is a little fascinated by just how awful people can be to each other, but reading this book as a checklist of family awfulness is the wrong way to look at it. It is inspirational, but a large part of its power is the way Westover walks us through how she saw things at the time, the way she barely survived abuse and lies and harmful thinking again and again by telling herself that what she experienced either wasn’t happening or was something completely different from reality. How sad to think of a child, any child, suffering so much at the hands of people she clearly and deeply loved and who loved her back.
Westover’s story reminds us of the power we all have to make a difference in others’ lives. Having spent many years working with struggling kids and families, I understand how imperfect and sometimes dangerous trying to help someone can be. Whatever you do often feels like not enough, but we have to hope, don’t we? We have to keep trying.
Educated by Tara Westover