Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: American (page 1 of 13)

Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides tends more towards writing short fiction than he does full-length novels… but damn, when he turns it on, he really turns it on. Middlesex is his 2002 novel inspired by the 19th-century diary of a French convent student who was intersex. He worked for nine years, writing and re-writing, until he managed to weave together a story that was both epic and introspective.

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Middlesex begins with Cal, aged 41, looking back on “this rollercoaster ride of a gene through time”. Ostensibly styled as Cal’s memoir, the first half-or-so of the book is more of a family saga, the internal logic being that tracing the Stephanides family tree is essential to understanding the unique circumstances and coincidences that gave rise to Cal’s genetic 5-alpha-reductase deficiency.

See, Middlesex is also a gender novel: Cal is intersex. They were assigned-female-at-birth (AFAB, in today’s parlance), due to their ambiguous-appearing genitals and the negligence of the family doctor’s examination. As such, they were raised as a girl. However, they have testes, and their secondary sex characteristics that emerge during puberty are typically male.

That’s the big ticket item, the reason most people come to Middlesex – but it’s a shame, because there’s a lot more to this story than Cal’s gender identity.

To take it all the way back to the beginning (as Cal does): their grandparents were, ahem, cut from the same branch of the family tree. Yes, they were brother and sister before they were husband and wife, before Game Of Thrones made it cool. They were displaced during the early 20th century conflict between Greeks and Turks, and managed – by the skin of their teeth – to emigrate to the United States. So, it’s an immigrant story, about ethnic identity and the American Dream, as much as it’s anything else.

The family saga is like Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets The Slap-era Christos Tsiolkas. Eugenides, through Cal, paints an incredibly detailed portrait of three generations (from conception to death) against the backdrop of major historical events, including the 1967 Detroit Riot and Watergate. Of course, this requires some funky twists and turns in Cal’s narration. Eugenides allows his protagonist unrealistic insight into other characters’ thoughts, a kind of omniscient-first-person at times, but somehow he makes it flow very naturally (think Melville’s narration by Ishmael in Moby Dick).

And, an important side note: in addition to being preternaturally insightful, Cal is FUNNY. Like, no one calls Middlesex a comedy, but I literally lol’d several times. It’s not all doom and gloom!

I suppose I can’t ignore the sex and gender themes of Middlesex forever. So, deep breath, here we go…

First off, no, Eugenides is not intersex himself. He drew a lot of details for Middlesex (particularly around Greek American families and geography) from his real life, but not the gender bit. As he explains it:

Because the story is so far from my own experience, I had to use a lot of details from my own life to ground it in reality, to make it believable for me and then hopefully for the reader, as well. So I would use my own physical appearance. I would use details from my grandparents’ life, the streets they lived on, the kinds of places they lived. And all this made it real for me because it was a tall order to write such a story.

Jeffrey Eugenides (On Middlesex)

Of course, adopting the voice of an intersex character for a novel is a controversial choice by today’s standards, but at least Eugenides took it seriously. It wasn’t a gimmick to sell books: Cal’s voice and identity are central to the story. Eugenides spent years researching intersex biology and politics. Learning about 5-alpha-reductase deficiency actually changed the shape and scope of the story (initially, Eugenides had envisaged Middlesex as a short fictional autobiography, but learning that this condition primarily arises in isolated inbred populations led him to explore the epic history of Cal’s family).

Also controversial is the language Cal (slash Eugenides) uses throughout the novel. By the end, Cal explicitly rejects the essentialism underlying “traditional” definitions of sex and gender – Cal is neither “really” a boy, nor “really” a girl, regardless of clothing or the assumptions of others – but Eugenides uses he/him pronouns to describe the character. I’ve chosen not to in this review, because it simply didn’t feel accurate or natural based on the days I’ve spent with Cal while reading Middlesex. I suspect, if the novel were written and published today, they would be using gender neutral pronouns.

Then, there’s the language Cal uses to describe their identity. They shift between using “intersex” (when talking in the abstract, regarding activism and so forth) and the now-objectionable “hermaphrodite”. Eugenides has been asked directly why he used this term, and I thought his justification was pretty sound: it’s used by Cal in the context of their identification and engagement with Hermaphroditus, among other characters of Greek mythology and history. “When speaking about real people, I should—and I do my best to—use the term ‘intersex’,” he said. He also pointed to the journal Hermaphrodites With Attitude (published by the Intersex Society of North America) as an example of the reclaiming of the word by intersex people, akin to the reclaiming of the word “queer”.

Nevertheless, even though the language is a bit outdated (twenty years is a long time in LGBTIQ+ politics and science!), there’s a ring of authenticity in Eugenides’ portrayal, and a sensibility that I think transcends nomenclature. He has been largely praised by queer and intersex reviewers for his sensitive and insightful depiction of an intersex character, which is more than most cis-het men could ever hope for. The exception would be the handful of reviewers and scholars who have criticised Eugenides for supposedly “erasing lesbian identities” (as Cal only openly explores their attraction to women once they begin presenting as a man). I think that’s a bit rich, to be honest; Middlesex is already a huge sweeping epic, and adding an extra hundred pages for Cal to explore lesbianism would have felt like inauthentic overkill.

But I circle back to my original point: Middlesex is much more than a gender novel. Adam Begley described it as “a hybrid form, epic crossed with history, romance, comedy, tragedy” in his review for the New York Observer, and that’s spot on. It’s a big book, in length, depth, and breadth, and yet it’s compelling and thoroughly readable. If you’ve held off reading Middlesex, feeling skeptical or intimidated, you really shouldn’t wait any longer.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Middlesex:

  • “When the incestuous couple really started tucking into each other, I finally googled the author’s motivation in having incest as a major plot element, and it turns out he threw that in there just because he needed to explain the main character’s intersex condition. Ugh. C’mon Eugenides. There are a lot of other ways you could have peeled that banana.” – Julia
  • “This is a horrible and dull book. Rotten in every way. It starts with a really stupid and misleading line. “I was born on an incredibly smogless day in Detroit”. There is NEVER any smog in Detroit. The rest of the book is just as bad. There should be a stack of these books about 1/2 of a mile high for the author to jump off of.” – Michael
  • “Seriously? Incest stories about the protagonist’s grandmother is what makes good reading these days? No thanks.” – maranda green harris

The Miseducation Of Cameron Post – Emily M Danforth

The Miseducation Of Cameron Post has one of the best opening lines ever (“The afternoon my parents died, I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson.”). Plus, this Penguin edition is absolutely gorgeous, with sprayed edges in the colours of the Pride flag. I didn’t know much else about it when I picked it up, but hey: that was enough to convince me!

The Miseducation Of Cameron Post - Emily M Danforth - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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It turns out, The Miseducation Of Cameron Post is a coming-of-age young adult novel. The titular character, Cameron, is a 12-year-old girl living in rural Montana in the early ’90s (actually, in Danforth’s hometown of Miles City). The story begins the summer Cameron’s life veers wildly off course.

Her parents die suddenly, tragically, in a car crash (NOT a spoiler, see the opening line!). To her great shame, Cameron’s first reaction upon hearing the news of their death is relief. Earlier that day, she had been kissing her best friend Irene (and shoplifting with her, too, but that’s by the by). That might not seem like a shocking secret to be hiding in today’s day and age, but in early ’90s rural Montana? You can understand Cameron’s fervent fear of discovery.

The coincidental timing – of Cameron’s sexual awakening and her parent’s death – makes for a tangled mess of emotions, one that she struggles throughout the novel to untangle. Cameron doesn’t just kiss Irene, she kisses other girls too, and even falls in love with one of them. The guilt she feels over her attractions is compounded by the influence of her new guardian, born-again conservative Aunt Ruth.

Things go from bad to worse when Cameron is unceremoniously outed by the straight girl with whom she had fallen in love. Aunt Ruth “has no choice” but to send Cameron to God’s Promise (blegh), a religious boarding school (i.e., conversion camp) that promises to “cure” her (i.e., pray away the gay).

So, here seems as good a point as any to mention a few things. First off, big time trigger warnings for The Miseducation Of Cameron Post: death, grief, conversion “therapy”, self harm, and internalised homophobia. Secondly, if you’re not familiar with conversion “therapy”, this explainer from the Australian Human Rights Institute of UNSW describes it as “a pseudoscientific practice whereby an LGBTQI+ person is subjected to methods of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment which is instigated by individuals with the aim of changing their sexual orientation and / or gender identity”. Danforth has said that The Miseducation Of Cameron Post was inspired by the 2005 case of Zach Stark, a young adult who was sent to one such conversion camp after coming out to his parents. Some Australian jurisdictions have outlawed these programs, and momentum is growing for a nationwide ban; of course, the state of play is more dire in other parts of the world. If you want to know more, see if your local LGBTQI+ action groups have any resources.

Okay, now back to the story. Ironically, at God’s Promise, Cameron finds the kind of queer community she was missing back in Montana. Danforth stops short of depicting any gory physical abuse at the hands of the camp’s staff, but it’s clear that Cameron and her new friends are suffering and struggling with the pseudo-therapeutic “treatment” the staff provides. It was a really interesting approach on Danforth’s part. The pastor and his staff aren’t typical “monsters”, and it’s not always easy to hate them; sometimes, they seem to genuinely care for their charges and believe that they’re doing what’s best for them. That makes for confused emotions and allegiances in the reader – a good reflection of the main character’s own journey.

The Miseducation Of Cameron Post is, in a sense, a “coming out novel”, but it’s much darker and less trope-y than that label implies. Cameron’s sexual identity isn’t reduced to a one-off forbidden Sapphic love affair, born of two people with undeniable chemistry who just happen to be the same gender. Cameron is deep-in-her-bones queer, and she seems to have a knack for finding girls who are just as curious-slash-scared as she is, even in rural Montana, even at conversion camp.

The prose is tactile, well-paced, and rich without being overwhelming. Danforth gradually adds layer after layer, and shows remarkable restraint in relaying a highly emotive story. She also writes in a kind of quasi-nostalgic style that shits me no end when it’s written by/for straight men, but resonates so hard for me when it’s written by/for queer women; maybe that’s a relatability thing? I’m conscious of my own biases as a reader, and this is probably one of them.

Of course, because The Miseducation Of Cameron Post is good and interesting and actually reflects the lived experiences of some young queer people, it’s been banned any number of times, most notably in Delaware in 2014. A school board removed it from the district’s summer reading list, citing “inappropriate language” as the reason – ha! Disingenuous tools. Danforth’s response to the news was perfect, so I’ve reproduced it in full here:

“I’m proud that The Miseducation of Cameron Post is now in the company of so, so many novels that have been banned and challenged and censored throughout history—many of them among my all-time favorites, the very books that shaped me as a reader, a writer, and a person. It seems that everyone except you knows that censoring, or even attempting to censor a book, only makes it more appealing to curious readers, which certainly seems to be true in this case. I’m honored to be told that dozens of local readers have already begun seeking out my novel, something they almost certainly wouldn’t have done before you made this completely unnecessary decision.”

Emily M. Danforth (author of The Miseducation Of Cameron Post)

All told, I loved The Miseducation Of Cameron Post – it’s a difficult read at times, but an immersive and impressive one, a must for fans of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. While it’s billed as a young adult novel, and I’m sure there are plenty of teens who get a lot out of it, I think it will actually resonate most for adult-adults, the ones who actually grew up during or before Cameron’s adolescence. Speaking as one of those, my hat goes off to Danforth, and I look forward to reading more from her.

Year Of Yes – Shonda Rhimes

I’m not ashamed to admit that, prior to reading Year Of Yes, all of my Shonda Rhimes knowledge was Grey’s Anatomy-related. In fact, prior to Year Of Yes, Rhimes herself really preferred it that way. All her life, she had been a self-confessed introvert; she once hired a publicist for the express purpose of keeping her from actually having to do any publicity for her ground-breaking television.

Year Of Yes - Shonda Rhimes - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Really, Rhimes said “no” to everything as a way of hiding from things that terrified her (can’t we all relate, just a little bit?). As a show-runner for multiple Big Time Mega Hit Must-Watch shows, and a single mother to three kids, no one ever doubted her when she said she was “too busy”. But the truth was, actually, she was too afraid.

Then, while cooking Thanksgiving dinner in 2013, her sister said something to her, something Rhimes calls the “six startling words”: you never say yes to anything.

Well, you can’t lay down a gauntlet like that in front of a powerhouse like Rhimes. She embraced the challenge and decided to go against all her better instincts, to spend the year saying YES. She’s now written this book, Year Of Yes, about her experience. It’s not a memoir, exactly – even though it’s told through the frame of Rhimes’ experiment. It’s not self-help, either – even though Rhimes offers a lot of advice and wisdom gleaned from what she’s done. I’d say Year Of Yes is a non-fiction book about the transformative power of being open to new things and overcoming ingrained anxiety, as exemplified by one extraordinary woman.

I knew from the prologue alone that Rhimes and I would be great friends (she and Gabrielle Union and I should really get together sometime). She likes wine (in a let’s-drink-about-it way, not a snobby way), and her searing self-deprecation (whilst never losing sight of, nor apologising for, her many accomplishments) is totally endearing. What’s more, it’s abundantly clear throughout Year Of Yes that she poured a lot of herself into her most-beloved Grey’s Anatomy character, Christina Yang. Trust me, if you’ve ever identified as a Yang, Year Of Yes is a book you’ll want to read.

That’s not why I picked it up, though – just a happy coincidence. Mostly I was curious about Year Of Yes as a fascinating counterpoint to all of the calls for busy women to say “no” more often. Rhimes is busier than most of us (combined). Surely, I thought, saying “yes” – to everything – would simply lead to her feeling over-committed and exhausted.

She addresses the over-commitment question directly in chapter seven (“Yes to All Play and No Work”), when she realises that saying “yes” also means saying yes to silly things, fun thinsg, and sometimes saying yes to those things means saying a grateful “no” to others. This is not the year of indiscriminate yes; it’s the year of yes to things that make us feel alive. There are some things (and some people, ahem!) that it is absolutely right to say-yes-to-saying-no-to.

When Rhimes starts saying yes, she finds that her fear won’t actually kill her. Most of the time, facing the fear she feels really pays off. She does interviews, speeches, cameo appearances, all kinds of awesome stuff that brings her a lot of joy – all of which she would have said “no” to, had her sister not made a crack at her at a family get-together. Year Of Yes turns out to be Rhimes’ own self-guided form of exposure therapy. The more she says yes, and follows through, the easier (and better) it gets.

I got nervous when she started to talk about health and her weight – but I needn’t have worried. Though some of her self-talk and concerns might be a bit triggering for readers particularly sensitive to those issues, I thought Rhime’s message was ultimately a positive and empowering one. She is not here to advocate for losing weight in order to feel beautiful. Rather, she discovered that once she felt beautiful and said “yes” to doing things that made her feel good, losing weight was a side effect of that. Say “yes” to loving your body and commit to doing the best you can for it, and the rest will fall where it may. Sometimes that means saying “yes” to a hike, sometimes it means saying “yes” to extra cheese.

I hesitate to share this, for fear of sounding like a gross cliche, but… what the heck. Year Of Yes actually encouraged me (I will not say the word inspired: I will not, I will not, I will not) to start saying yes a bit more myself. Not to anything particularly life changing, but to invitations and offers that I might otherwise have turned down. Post-lockdown anxiety had me very apprehensive about going back out into the world and interacting IRL again, but it turned out the more often I said “yes”, the easier (and better) it got.

Take this as a simple testament to the power of Year Of Yes: it convinced even the hardest-baked cynic on the other side of the world to give it a go. Hell yes, Shonda!

My favourite Amazon reviews of Year Of Yes:

  • “I had such high hopes for this book! And I tried. I tried soooo hard to make it through. But it is was so incredibly boring and self-centered and seemingly without an ability to connect to others hardships and experiences of life. If you DO find yourself as a very wealthy, very successful TV writer and producer with an amazing life who just can’t seem to say yes to fancy events with other wealthy, successful people, then PLEASE buy this book. It will no doubt help you on your journey.” – Jessica Michele
  • “The book came with what very much appears to be snot on the cover, complete with multiple pieces of nose or beard hair in it. Delivered during the peak of COVID. Not feeling great about this.” – Amsat
  • “I’m in a book club and this was our book… not sure if I’m going to stay with the book club.” – Jeff & Erin

Know My Name – Chanel Miller

In 2016, the name Brock Turner made headlines around the world. He was sentenced to just six months in jail after he was convicted – literally caught in the act – of sexually assaulting a young woman on the Stanford campus in California. His victim, identified then only as Emily Doe, wrote an impact statement which was shared online; it went viral, and reached millions around the world within days. Three years later, Chanel Miller stepped forward and identified herself as Emily Doe, the until-then anonymous victim of the man whose name has become inextricable from conversations about sexual assault, sentencing, and #MeToo. In Know My Name, Miller reclaims her name, her story, and the years lost to her silent battle.

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In January 2015, Miller was a 22-year-old graduate living in Palo Alto. One night, on a whim she decided to attend a Stanford campus party with her sister and friends. Within hours, Brock Turner sexually assaulted her, and she became “unconscious intoxicated woman” – Emily Doe. In Know My Name, Miller doesn’t ease you into this harrowing story with any meandering anecdotes about her upbringing. She’s setting this scene for her assault by page 2.

I was deeply disturbed to realise, in these early chapters, just how little Miller was told about what had happened to her once she regained consciousness, even after she made it abundantly clear to doctors and police that she had no memory of leaving the party. One of the most confronting scenes from Know My Name (and that’s saying something) comes when Miller learns the details of her assault from a news article, sitting at her desk at work. At the same time as the rest of the world, she read about her assailant’s dreams of swimming at the Olympics and his record-breaking pace, alongside the allegations that he had violently penetrated her with his fingers and left her mostly-undressed on the ground behind a garbage bin when two cyclists intervened.

He was the one who lost everything. I was just the nobody it had happened to.

Know My Name (Page 48)

This pattern plays out time and time again in Know My Name, each instance as sickening as the last: the perpetrator’s accomplishments and ambitions are highlighted, his crime(s) diminished, Miller’s pain and suffering barely mentioned.

The judge had given Brock something that would never be extended to me: empathy. My pain was never more valuable than his potential.

Know My Name (Page 241)

Of course, the assault is only the beginning. Over the course of Know My Name, Miller recounts in gut-wrenching detail the ways in which she was repeatedly violated over the following years: the investigation, the hearing, the trial, the sentencing, the aftermath. Institutions seem to fail her at every turn. The courtroom turns into a circus with rival ringleaders, each seeking to make their own performing monkey seem most sympathetic to a jury. The administrators of Stanford offer Miller little more than a pamphlet and a condescending pat on the shoulder, their fears of litigation and bad publicity far outweighing any fear they have for the safety of students and visitors to their campus.

Miller does remind us at intervals (though she shouldn’t have to) that Know My Name exists for so many people. One in five women have a version of this story that they could tell. What happened to Miller is not an isolated incident, it was not an extraordinary once-off. It happens every day, in every part of the world. It’s an excellent companion read to She Said (the journalists’ account of breaking the Harvey Weinstein story), in that regard.

It struck me, about halfway through Know My Name, that this was the first full account I’d ever read of the victim’s journey through the judicial system. In TV dramas, they cut right from the confession to the guilty verdict, and everyone goes home feeling justice has been done in 38 minutes. Miller’s account exposes the indefinite timeframes, the potential minefields, the unexpected demands – women just don’t know that this is what they’re agreeing to when they’re encouraged to report. Collectively, we “know” that it’s difficult, demoralising, retraumatising, but that knowledge is abstract. By sharing the full story in Know My Name, Miller makes it tangible.

She also emphasises the ripple effect of trauma. The man who attacked her didn’t only victimise her, he victimised her sister, her parents, her grandmother, her friends. Her sister lives with enormous survivor’s guilt. Her parents had to see close-up images of Miller’s brutalised vulva displayed in the courtroom. Her friends had to fend off reporters and the defendant’s investigators looking to dig up dirt. One assault, so many victims.

Chapter 12 provides a particularly striking rebuttal to the “but what about innocent until proven guilty?” argument. Miller lays out all the ways in which we currently interrogate the past behaviour of the victim (what they drank, what they wore, who they’ve slept with); if the victim can’t be “innocent until proven guilty”, why should their attacker be? The benefit of the doubt doesn’t seem to extend to the person who is bleeding. Miller has been caught in this trap herself, but incredibly she has retained the capacity to articulate the flaws of the “system” in stunningly eloquent ways. “When a victim does go for help, she is seen as attacking the assailant,” Miller says in Know My Name. “Inherently the victim is outnumbered,” (page 287-8).

It’s hard not to turn this review into a series of extracts; Miller’s voice is that powerful. Just one more…

For years, the crime of sexual assault depended on our silence. The fear of knowing what happened if we spoke… The barricades that held us down will not work anymore. And when silence and shame are gone, there will be nothing to stop us.

Know My Name (Page 327)

Goosebumps, right? This is an incredible read, on every level: as a tool for dismantling the patriarchy, as a masterfully-crafted narrative, as an account of crime and justice, and as a radical testament to the costs of survival.

Educated – Tara Westover

When it comes to writing memoirs, you’ve either got to have talent for storytelling or a life so fascinating that talent (or lack thereof) doesn’t matter. Luckily, Tara Westover has both. Even in the hands of a real bore, Educated – a memoir about shame, understanding, and the transformative power of education – would be an interesting read. In Westover’s voice, it’s downright enthralling.

Educated - Tara Westover - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Educated, first published in 2018, is Westover’s account of her remarkable life: growing up in a family of survivalist Mormons, leaving them to step foot in a classroom for the first time as a university student, and going on to complete a PhD at Cambridge University. The story is told in three parts, to match that chronology.

Part One begins with Westover’s birth – date unknown, sometime around the end of September, 1986 – on an isolated rural property that served as both family home and junkyard. Westover didn’t have a birth certificate for the first nine years of life. When the time came for her to get one, none of her family members could agree on their recollection of the day she was born. “I remember the day [my delayed birth certificate] came in the mail,” she says, on page 26. “It felt oddly dispossessing, being handed this first legal proof of my personhood: until that moment, it had never occurred to me that proof was required.”

Her parents were deeply suspicious of any government or organisation, be it hospitals, schools, or the tax man. Westover and her siblings grew up fearing the kind of federal intervention we’ve seen play out on the evening news, where operatives would come to take them away – and for them, the threat was a lot more tangible, and local. A 1992 siege upon the home of a like-minded Idaho family nearby resulted in three deaths; you might know it as Ruby Ridge.

Westover’s attempts to attend school or participate in any other aspect of “normal” childhood were (sometimes violently) opposed by her father. That included seeking medical attention. Educated has any number of stories of junkyard injuries that the family “treated” (homeopathically) themselves at home, and more than one serious car accident – each more stomach-turning than the last.

Despite that stumble start in life, Westover managed to “home school” herself enough to pass the required exams and gain entry to Brigham Young University. In Part Two of Educated, she details the pressures and obstacles that come from starting college at 17, having taught yourself to read with only the Bible and the Book of Mormon as reference texts.

Once Westover begins her formal education, she is reluctant – in the extreme – to tell the truth of her upbringing, her circumstances, and her needs. It’s easy, with privilege and hindsight, to shout at the page: “Just tell them! It’ll help! It’ll make things better for you!”. It takes a long time for Westover to concede that she does, in fact, need more than her upbringing gave her to survive in the world.

I’ll never forget one particularly harrowing episode where Westover finally found the courage to ask a question in class: the meaning of the word Holocaust. Her classmates were horrified, but of course, none of them knew why she asked.

I’d never learned how to talk to people who weren’t like us – people who went to school and visited the doctor. Who weren’t preparing, every day, for the End of the World.

Educated (Page 101)

The final section of Educated covers Westover’s opportunity to study at Cambridge, the financial assistance and mentorship she received to help her stay there – and, of course, what choosing the path of education meant for her relationship with her family, her hometown, her religion, and herself. The book learning’s not all beer and skittles, after all.

Westover writes her true history without judgement, a remarkable feat given her circumstances. She says at the end of her memoir that she’s in touch with only a few of her family members, and lives a life entirely separate from the mountain that was her first home, but she doesn’t seem to wish them ill or bear any bitterness for the life they gave her.

In the interests of a right of reply, I’ll tell you here that Westover’s parents (via their attorneys) have said that there is “only a little germ of truth” in Educated, and her brother Shawn in particular has vehemently denied the instances of abuse Westover described. Westover hasn’t given a public response to that – the book kind of speaks for itself, really, having been professionally fact-checked by the kinds of very smart and thorough people who do that kind of thing.

What Westover has lost in family, she has won in fans, hundreds of thousands of times over. Educated was an instant best-seller, and received wall-to-wall positive reviews (a frightening number of which appear as blurbs in my edition, pages and pages of them!). The book spent over two years on the New York Times Bestseller List, and has been translated into over 45 languages. As of last year, it had sold over 6 million copies worldwide.

I found Educated to be a breathtaking read, in more ways than one. The dangers and horrors of Westover’s childhood had my heart in my throat – but the moments of love and compassion shared within this bizarre family did, too. I was captivated by the way Westover was able to relate her story, with frankness and fairness that any memoir writer should envy. Naturally, I must offer any prospective readers content warnings for family trauma (and one particularly alarming incident of cruelty towards a dog, near the end), but trust me: if you can stomach it, Educated is an incredible and transformative read.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Educated:

  • “By purchasing this book, helped her pay for her psych bills.” – Gloria H. Pedrick
  • “Survivalist, near- death experiences, severe mental illness, religious conflict, this book has it all. And you think YOUR family is nuts!” – Nancy
  • “I need this book downloaded on to my iPad, please” – Yvonne barmon swanstrom
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