As a teacher, I loved this book. Westover’s memoir of slowly growing into literacy despite coming from an abusive, rural, fundamentalist environment that harshly discouraged it is inspiring in many ways–it makes readers grateful for the lives we’re blessed with, it makes us grateful that Westover’s voice gets to be heard now, it gives us an example of determination and passion to follow–but for me, it mostly reminded me of just how much difference good teachers can make.
It reminded me that teachers have great power to shape minds by opening them and challenging them. That might be a cliché, but the proof is in the prose: consider this passage where Westover remembers early writing sessions with a great teacher. I wish that my students would look back on their writing development and credit me for this much concrete guidance!
Beyond nuts and bolts, the teacher as mentor who helps students find their true selves is also given due time to shine:
As a reader, I loved this book. Westover’s writing reaches all the superlatives for which we yearn: confident, polished, original, lyrical, but never fussy or pretentious. My favorite example of this is actually a chapter title. This may be the best chapter title I’ve ever seen.
I can only hope that she’ll go on to write novels, also. Considering her training, maybe historical fiction? I will read her next book in a heartbeat.
Her perspective of the power of reading, and of thinking deeply about reading, touched me–this is one of those books where the lonely reader may see himself or herself in the words of a stranger, even one whose life was dangerous and scary at times when your own life, just two states away, was comfortable and happy. Two great examples:
As a Mormon, I loved this book. She starts with a brief prologue saying that this book is not about Mormonism, and indeed, where a wary reader might wonder how the LDS Church will look in a setting as violent as this story’s, one needn’t worry. For example, two of the book’s heroic helpers are a roommate and a bishop at BYU, who assisted her immensely.
Westover never clearly comes out and says it, but it’s obvious that at some point in her young life as she came into her own that she also lost her connection with the church, but she’s never negative about it at all. Honestly, I can hardly blame her for not being too keen on it, knowing her family background. It’s hard not to throw the baby out with the bathwater when the bathwater is radioactive.
I find it oddly funny that Westover’s family rejects modern medicine, claiming to be faithful adherents to a church whose new president is a heart surgeon.
In one quick and seemingly random passage near the end of the book, Westover mentions that she was in the Middle East on the day that bin Laden was caught and killed:
Was there a subconscious corollary to her father there, a coded message for herself and her readers, defining the line between her life’s immediate environment and the larger, better world around it? I saw those lines, but I also saw them this way: “He’s no Mormon. He does not understand the gospel, or he would not do the terrible things he’s done.”