Fall Reads 2019 – Good to Great

Educated by Tara Westover

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This book was absolutely incredible. It has been all over the book world, so if you’ve seen it but haven’t picked it up yet, you should. Westover has lived a life stranger than fiction and is a wonderful storyteller. I spent most of the book alternating between anger at her father for his reckless selfishness and awe at Tara for how she was able to do what she has given her backstory.

In addition to just being a fascinating tale, this is also a gripping essay on family and self. Despite her very unconventional upbringing, Westover maintains a strong sense of filial loyalty and compassion. The entire book details her struggle between achieving what she wants for herself and earning the love and respect she wants from her parents. I’m happy for her that she has siblings who also escaped their father’s hold on them, because it means she’s able to keep up her family ties in a more healthy way. I’ll be watching to see whether she publishes anything else; if it has her name on it, I’ll read it.

Fever by Mary Beth Keane

I’m not sure how I got through 24 years of life without hearing of Typhoid Mary, but I finally stumbled upon her name in a blog comment and had to find out more. My search led me to this book and I’m so glad it did. A fictionalized account of the real Mary Mallon, this was a beautiful tribute to a woman that we’ve vilified unnecessarily. The writing was so good. Keane personalizes Mary Mallon beautifully and keeps the plot moving forward during the whole book. She also highlights how unfairly Mallon was treated, explaining that there were other known typhoid carriers found around the same time as her that were allowed to continue their lives instead of being quarantined on an island, including others that worked with food. (The main one we read about in the book was a man, because of course he was.)

This book really made me feel for the real Mallon. It completely humanized her. If you’re someone who likes a detailed and nuanced look at history, this is a great read. I’ve added Keane’s other works to my TBR.

A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry

This is Lois Lowry, so do I even need to review this? It’s beautiful, written with nuance often found in children’s books and not found often enough in adult lit. Meg’s voice is so well done, and I love love love stories about siblings. The family dynamics are also really nice. (Some of the YA I enjoyed when I was younger ignores the parental relationship, which is sad because it’s still such a huge part of life as a young adult.) I’m only sad I missed this one when I was younger.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

I’m sad to say I was a little disappointed by this one, but I’m including it in the “good to great” because it was an interesting plot with compelling characters. It is told in the voices of both Celestial and Roy, which makes it easier to sympathize with both of them. The two are a newly married couple when Roy is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and the novel tracks their relationship through that drama. Given that their relationship was tumultous from the beginning, I honestly think it might not have lasted even if Roy hadn’t been convicted, but it is tragic that they didn’t get to find out. Unfortunately I think this is a story that plays out too often in real life, so not only is this a good book, but important. I keep this at just “good” and not “great” though because I did not feel like the voices of the two characters were distinct. If this is one you’re on the fence about, however, I’d still recommend it.

Covers from Goodreads.

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