Book Review: Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Book Review: Educated : A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018) 5 Stars *****

Told from a heart broken by wretched memories, the story begins with seven year old Tara and takes us through adulthood. Born and raised in the remote mountains of Idaho in an extreme Mormon fundamentalist/survivalist family, Tara learns to hate herself as she and her family wait for the End of Days. Even after all of her successes, it takes her many years until she can accept herself as deserving of the opportunities and accomplishments afforded her. Carrying emotional and physical scars throughout her life, we see once again that when a child is abused by a loved one, they do not grow up to hate that person, they grown up to hate themselves. The truth is: We never truly escape our upbringing, no matter how far or how fast we run.

The family does not believe in birth certificates, hospitals, doctors, insurance, public education, western medicines, supermarkets, cleaning, organizing, or questioning patriarchal authority. The children are primarily home-schooled to a point, but the education stops before they are reading, writing and doing basic math problems at a level of literacy. Tara is seventeen years old until she attends a school full time. The siblings are divided in their desire to be educated. Three of them, including Tara, desire higher education and life’s work outside of their parents’ closed world. Tara’s father is more accepting of this decision for his sons, but believes Tara’s aspirations are the work of the devil and an abomination against the Mormon religion. Tara is called a whore by her father whenever she expresses a desire to attend school. He does not understand or accept her desire for more than marriage and motherhood.

Tara and her six siblings are expected to work in the family businesses. Living under the thumb and in the shadow of their father’s junkyard/scrap metal and gasoline siphoning businesses occupies their existence. The main problem with Tara’s father? He is bi-polar and unconcerned about the unsafe conditions under which he forces even his young children to work. He refuses to allow protective helmets, heavy gloves, proven-safe equipment, or methodical procedures. He forces them to work with flammables as he unconcernedly uses acetylene torches and other igniters nearby. He even forces ten year old Tara to ride on top of a pile of junk as he dumps it and Tara into a container, impaling her leg with a metal spike. As a result, his children suffer broken bones, burned bodies, brain damage, scarred and disfigured faces and body parts, and loss of limbs and fingers. Name calling destroys self-esteem. Threats of physical violence, not only from Tara’s father but also from one of her bi-polar further brain- damaged- from- accidents brothers, destroys aspirations.

Tara’s father’s stubborn decisions resulted in two serious car accidents while returning to Idaho from a family visit to Arizona. He decided twice to make the long journey by driving through the night. Tara’s father forced one of his sons to drive despite protestations of fatigue. Tara’s mother was seriously brain damaged during this first accident. Even after the tragic events of this first time decision, Tara’s father demanded the same departure from their second trip even though they would be driving into dangerous white-out blizzard conditions. Their car went off the road and the family received serious injuries once again. His reaction? Not his fault. Not a bad decision at all. Things happen.

The main problem with Tara’s mother? Tara’s mother is a celebrated mid-wife and herbalist/healer which serves to bring in most of the family income. Self-centered. No backbone. Untrustworthy. Manipulative. Although she sees the cruel exploitation her husband imposes on her children, she does little to stop him. To add insult to injury, she has a different story for each person she speaks with. She promises her children to back them up, then recants and plays a bait and switch and presents the opposite of the truth to extended family members. She backs up her husband, no matter what.

Somehow, Tara works her way to success by part-time jobs, independent study, self-teaching, attending classes and schools of higher education. Tara receives a lot of help from college professors—guidance, advice, scholarships, grants, and other financial aid, opportunities to study abroad and eventually is graduated from Cambridge in England as a brilliant scholar, and goes on to Harvard for a PH.D. Tara also has an exceptionally beautiful singing voice which she recognizes as a gift. You would think a highly acclaimed scholar with an angelic singing voice would be able to shed her past for a sense of pride. and happiness. But, no. On paper, Tara notes her accomplishments and talents, but this intellectual assessment never makes it to her heart.

Tara is a loner and does not make friends easily. She is unsophisticated in social graces. She wears black pants and a black blouse at a black tie dinner at Cambridge, having no idea how a woman should dress for such an occasion. For many years, she bathed once or twice a week, never using soap. She became a pariah for openly not washing her hands after using the restroom. She never cleaned up after herself, threw out rotted food, washed her dishes, wore anything other than men’s oversized jeans and shirts. She smelled bad. Her home smelled bad. Although Tara knew she did not fit in, she hardly asked for guidance and persisted in being herself, believing that it was her prerogative.

Despite the emotional pain and physical threats she endures during her visits, Tara continues to visit her family periodically, attending funerals and family holiday dinners. Her parents sometimes visit her at school but it always ends badly. She often gives up hope and vacillates between achieving her goals and giving in to her father’s demands of mediocrity and conformity within his extreme belief system. Eventually, Tara walks away and does not look back until she has achieved her highest honors. The price she pays is high. She gains herself but loses her family. In time, Tara reconnects with her two education-minded brothers and an aunt. Her parents have spread the rumor that Tara is demonically possessed and that they fear for their safety. Many of the relatives accept this, so she is permanently ostracized from that group.

This is an amazing story. Hard to imagine that someone in this situation can accomplish so much. It demonstrates how outside help from powerful, well-placed people can turn a person’s life around and put them on a path to success and accomplishment. The sad thing is that Tara tells her story as a robot, lacking emotional connection to her diary entries. It reads like a newspaper account, devoid of feelings. The words are there, but the pain is buried so deep, that Tara must disassociate herself from the events. Although Tara is aware of her amazing accomplishments, she is not happy inside. The book ends as it begins with facts, not feelings. What of Tara’s personal life? It would seem she does not have one.

What was the result of Tara’s education? She now knows that discovery and knowledge do not lead to brainwashing. It’s possible to read and learn, then analyze and dismiss. Exposure does not mean acceptance. This is something Tara wishes her father could accept.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2020

Book Review: The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz (YA) (MG)

Book Review: The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz (2016) (Young Adult) (Middle Grade) 4 Stars ****

This book is a take-off on The Canterbury Tales. Set in France in 1242, we are told the story of three amazing children and a dog by a variety of characters, each of whom adds a section to the story. The book is compelling, with many messages on many different levels. The sometimes bawdy humor and double entendres with the intense story line may be more appropriate for a Young Adult reader. Any fan of medieval history will be enthralled by this story. Many events and characters are based on historical facts and people who actually lived, but the author does take liberties with combining story elements for dramatic effect.

Jeanne, Jacob, William, and Jeanne’s reincarnated greyhound Gwenforte travel as a group to Mont Saint-Michel to eventually stop a book burning of some 20,000 Jewish books, including Torahs, as ordered by King Louis IX and the Queen Mother. Initially running for their lives, the children meet up, finding comfort in one another. They encounter problems and people in trouble along the way. Each child uses a special power to save the day: Catholic Jeanne—visions of the future and a steadfast heart; Jewish Jacob—the healing power of prayer and herbs; part-Muslim, part Christian William—his super strength and unusually large size; reincarnated Gwenforte— the ability to protect Jeanne. As the populace becomes aware of the powers of this group, some believe them to be saints and others, especially the king’s forces, believe them to be agents of the devil. Separated from their parents by violence, each child must rely on strength of character, cunning, cooperation, good luck, and the help of the other children and a powerful adult.

In the end, returning to their families is not an option. Jeanne, Jacob, and William go their separate ways to live out their lives and fulfill their destinies.

The story is compelling and well told. I’m not sure about the attention span o middle grade readers on this on. Probably, twelve and up would be a more suitable age even though the book is labeled as middle grade. It was somestimes difficult to know which character was telling the tale at a specific time. I often had the feeling that the author was giving hints as to a secret identity since there was often a lot of evasiveness in answering questions of validity of knowledge.

This book encourages God, religion, cooperation and acceptance among the different faiths, and the concept that a few bad people in a religion or government should not condemn the whole group. I do recommend it, especially in our world of intolerance for those who do not believe as we do.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2020

Book Review: The Doorman’s Repose by Chris Raschka

Book Review: The Doorman’s Repose by Chris Raschka
4 Stars ****   (MG and YA)

It’s been ages since I’ve read a SATIRE and here is a new and modern example to serve as a model for students of writing. Not only is it entertaining, but the reader learns about the idiosyncracies of living in a doorman apartment building in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. What fun!

Satire:  the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

Anyone who knows anything about a doorman building knows the doorman knows EVERYTHING that goes on. Packages, deliveries, visitors, daily habits are all under the nose of this very special person who presides over his realm and stands guard over those who enter. Relatives and friends of the residents become acquaintances of the doorman and in turn, all become interconnected. According to Mr. Bunchley the doorman, ” a connection is made when at least one party would feel the lack of the other.”

The funny thing, of course, is the privileged, quirky lives of the residents. Unusual demands must be addressed without upsetting anyone. The book is divided into ten stories about the doorman, crazy? or maybe not? Fred who presides over the pigeons, the requisite opera singer who loses her voice at an inopportune time, the walled up music room, the cultured, educated mice who spread their time among the different apartments and who travel to the country during the summer, the revered Number 2 elevator named Otis, the temperamental boiler, hot water for baths and tea, and the doorman’s repose—a state of rest, sleep, or tranquility—which comes after all is said and done.

The book is written with a tongue-in-cheek. So serious about nothing really. So accepting of the craziness that abounds. So true in its portrayal of this segment of New York City life.

I recommend this book to serve as a model for satire. It’s appropriate for middle grade and young adult readers. Cute. Different. Unique.

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

 

Book Review: The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

Book Review: The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore (MG) for reading level, (YA) for content 5 Stars *****

What a terrific book for sophisticated MG and YA readers! This book is totally modern with its Harlem slang, supportive lesbian mother, mostly absent caring father with a new girlfriend, an idolized older brother who was shot to death in a nightclub in the Bronx, gang bangers who terrorize the younger, unassociated kids, conflicted desire for a better life, friends who teeter on the edge between right and wrong, friendship with an autistic girl which started out as dislike, rivalry, then evolved into a healthy cooperation to achieve excellence and fame, and a helpful community center counselor. This book has it all.

Twelve -year-old Wallace (Lolly) Rachpaul, who  lives in Harlem in the upper east side of Manhattan, is obsessed with keeping his possessions from being “confiscated” by the thugs who frequent 125 St. Despondent over the death of his twenty-year-old brother, Jermaine, Lolly begins to give up on life and loses interest in his school work. His only interest is constructing buildings with his individual Lego kits. When Steve, a young man who serves as a positive role model for the neighborhood boys, gives Lolly a book for Christmas entitled A Pattern of Architecture, Lolly is inspired to innovate. He combines all the Lego pieces, integrating the blocks from all the kits, with his imagination on fire. His mom’s girlfriend brings bags full of Lego pieces from her job at a toy factory. Ali, the counselor at the community center, encourages Lolly to build with his Legos and gives him a private room to construct the imaginary alien world of Harmonee. From this activity, Lolly utilizes math and creative writing. The other kids become involved and Lolly’s mutually beneficial relationship with autistic Big Rose begins. Lolly and Big Rose find a common area in which to gain public recognition.

At the end, Lolly is able to come to terms with his brother’s death, his parents’ separate lives, his loyalty in friendships that don’t always run smoothly, and his desire to excel in life and avoid the trappings of the life around him. Lolly tells us how much he has changed from the beginning of the story, “Since then I had learned the most important thing: the decisions you make can become your life. Your choices are you.”

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

Book Review: In The Hamptons by Dan Rattiner

Book Review: In The Hamptons by Dan Rattiner (2008) 4 Stars ****

Anyone who has spent the day in the Hamptons could not possibly avoid encountering Dan’s Papers, the free local newspaper published by the eponymous Dan Rattiner. I have spent a lot of time in the Hamptons recently, came across this book published in 2008, and became intrigued by the personal accounts of the artists, writers, and personalities who inhabited this region of eastern Long Island, once the milieu of those who wished an invisible life, now teeming with those who want to see and be seen.

Dan Rattiner was sixteen when his parents left Millburn, New Jersey headed for Montauk with its white sandy beaches and fish-filled Atlantic Ocean punctuated by the quaint eastern-most towns of Suffolk County. Dan’s father had enough of the grind associated with his job as a cosmetics salesman and, capitalizing on his degree in pharmacy, realized his dream of owning a small drug store by day, and fishing by night. Dan worked for his father and started his own free local newspaper geared to tourists during the busy summer months. He solicited ads to finance the cost of printing and distribution, and wrote all the stories himself—just as he does now.

Dan Rattiner tells us about his interactions with pretty girls, arrogant artists, hard-drinking writers and entertainers, kind forward thinking bankers, colorful local fisherman, generous wealthy benefactors, stingy unreliable moguls, and the close-knit community of the inhabitants of the east end or “The End” as Montauk is called.

Dan Rattiner spread his influence from Montauk west to the Hamptons until he conquered those towns one by one with an inspiring combination of determination and smarts.

If you love the idea of the old Hamptons—as you might feel about the old Hollywood with its now extinct rules of conduct and black and white films showcasing actors with clipped British accents—take a look at this book. You’ll learn so much about the celebrities who helped shape this once obscure part of the world into the wonder it has become.

This story should have been awe-inspiring and exciting. Instead, the tone of voice is almost a bedtime story that lulls the reader into complacency. With fifty years of experiences with so many movers and shakers and creators of American culture, a flat delivery defeats the purpose. The author seems bored by the whole thing. Could it be possible?

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

Book Review: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Book Review: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah 4 Stars ****

Also appropriate for Young Adult Readers

Written by the author of The Nightingale, this book also has a magnetic pull on the reader with its sympathetic characters and wild, untamed setting in the Alaska of the 1970’s. A wonderful, but sometimes repetitious story, often undeveloped, melodramatic events, too many hints about what the future holds, confusing innuendo, and rather abrupt contrived ending made this 4 Stars for me instead of the 5 Stars it should have had. Please don’t misunderstand. This is a terrific book.

Thirteen year old Lenora (Leni) Allbright abruptly leaves city life behind as her parents inform her they will start a new life in the wilderness of Alaska. Leni’s father, Ernt, a POW and Vietnam veteran suffering from severe post traumatic stress, has inherited a small house in the Alaskan wilderness from an army buddy who was killed during his captivity as a POW. Ernt views this as a saving grace, Cora, Leni’s mom, goes along with whatever she feels will make her husband happy, while Leni expresses skepticism that a change of scenery will improve her father’s psyche. Leni is the only one of her family grounded in reality and her fears prove to be prophetical.

Leni’s family is totally unprepared for life in the wilderness. With the help of caring, experienced neighbors, they begin to learn basic survival techniques. They must carry a knife and/ or gun at all times for protection from bears and wolves. The family learn to hunt, trap, fish, grow and store their own vegetables, chop wood, pilot boats, ride snowblowers, read the sky for signs of storms, and try to keep their balance with the unusually long days and nights according to the season. They live without electricity, central heating, and indoor plumbing. Trips to the outhouse are dangerous at night because bears lurk in the woods. Walking and driving are treacherous. It’s possible to fall through the ice and into crevasses and never to be found. And yet, they come to love this land and its people.

Leni forms a deep friendship with Matthew who is the only child her own age in the town. This friendship leads to love and romance. Leni’s father becomes increasingly more violent, plotting, controlling, and reclusive while Leni’s mother continues to live in denial as she provokes her husband’s jealousy by her flirtations with Matthew’s divorced father. It would be impossible to summarize what happens without spoiling the story. The reader is subjected to great emotional upheaval as we fear for the safety and well-being of all the characters in the book. This is a heart-wrenching tale.

We have a sense of being there since the descriptive passages  give a clear sense of life in the wilderness—its loneliness and dangers. The last few chapters come and go quickly and abruptly. Is the ending realistic? In some ways the possibilities exist, but how probable is this “happy” ending?

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

 

What’s It All About? Sojourn Into The Night—A Memoir of the Peruvian Rainforest by Elaine Donadio

What’s It All About?

You can preview and purchase  Sojourn Into The Night—A Memoir of the Peruvian Rainforest at Amazon or Barnes & Noble websites for a digital or paperback copy, or you can visit Smashwords.com for a digital copy.

Sojourn Into The Night—A Memoir of the Peruvian Rainforest

 

Travel to the rainforest of Peru as the original photos in this watercolor journey help tell the story in this unrhymed,  poetic narrative which captures the stillness of the night and my delight in seeing unique creatures secure in their own world.

Awestruck by the beauty of the Peruvian rainforest, I behold what is hidden in plain sight. Aided by the full moon, the stars and three flashlights, the jungle guide traces the almost imperceptible – camouflaged creatures, unseen but for the probing lens and heightened senses of this mentor who, among the cacophony of undefined sounds amid ambiguous paths with buttress roots spread wide, staunch soldiers in their mission as lianas reach up with wooden fingers in communion with arboreal giants, quietly courses ahead in this exalted forest with depths of knowledge and intuition surpassing my own.

A teacher by profession, I become the student in this unfamiliar great biome, learning facts but also becoming aware of my limitations as a sentient being, capable of looking but incapable of seeing but for the gentle guidance of one who communes with nature.

My books are primarily geared to middle grade readers, but this book may be best suited to 12-adult (Nothing is X rated!).  They’re loaded with well-researched science facts and are appropriate for classroom study and/ or  supplemental or independent reading assignments with tie-ins for science, literacy and social studies. The secret of their success is their ability  and purpose in allowing the reader to have fun while learning—experiencing the world through the eyes of the characters—journeying with a friend, in a sense. Content area reading is what it’s all about.

Please visit my website ElaineDonadio.com  for study guides for this book. You can use the book for some of your answers, but you will have to do outside research, also.

Questions or comments? Please email me at author@elainedonadio.com. I’d love to hear from you.

Happy reading!

All rights reserved 2018.

 

 

Sojourn Into the Night: A Memoir of the Peruvian Rainforest

At eye level, buttress roots spread wide , staunch soldiers earnest in their mission.

At eye level, buttress roots spread wide , staunch soldiers earnest in their mission.

Here’s an excerpt from my unrhymed, poetic narrative “Sojourn Into the Night: A Memoir of the Peruvian Rainforest.”

 

A tattered cloak of ebony

backlit

by the stars

and the full March moon.

Unveiled, the tributary of the mighty Amazon,

river of the Napo people,

still,

but for the shatter

of the small boat

quietly coursing ahead,

never suggesting the abundance of life

concealed beneath its depths.

Exalted forest fashions shadows,

at this moment in time,

occasioned by flashlights.

 

At eye level,

buttress roots spread wide,

staunch soldiers

earnest in their mission.

Lianas reach up

with wooden fingers

in communion with arboreal giants.

© 2014 All rights reserved. No part of this content may be reprinted or used in any form without express permission of Elaine Donadio Writes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, March 14, 2020- Barnes & Noble, Massapequa, NY 12:00-4:00pm

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