March 30, 2018
Two Compelling Characters: Leni in The Great Alone (Fiction) and Tara in Educated (Nonfiction)
Today I’m highlighting two most compelling characters: Leni from The Great Alone (fiction) and Tara from Educated: A Memoir (nonfiction). Leni and Tara share some similar struggles and challenges. The two stories reminded me at times of The Glass Castle (charismatic yet unpredictable fathers, unstable homes, neglect, poverty) and Hillbilly Elegy (chaotic family life, nurturing grandparents)….a fascinating book club discussion could be centered around discussing the connections between these books and characters.
I’d love to hear which characters you read about this month that were the most memorable for you.
Meet Leni and Tara:
For me, memorable characters who grow and change despite the obstacles make all the difference in a good story. Both Leni and Tara are my choices for this month’s most compelling characters because they share some experiences and traits that make them memorable. Both endure emotional and physical abuse (not sexual), yet despite difficult childhoods, they each rise above their circumstances. Surprisingly, they continue to love and show devotion for their parents (this struck me in The Glass Castle, as well). Leni and Tara share a drive to pursue an education and a desire to belong. In addition, they are determined, persistent, courageous, loyal, clever, and brave. Each girl feels threatened (one by her father and the other by her brother) and fears for her safety. While Leni receives support from her small village community, Tara receives support from one brother, a BYU counselor, and some professors. Each girl is memorable in her grit, her ability to survive, and her drive to strive for something better in her life.
Tara’s words after dance class: “The other girls rarely spoke to me, but I loved being there with them. I loved the sensation of conformity. Learning to dance felt like learning to belong.”
Tara’s words about her abusive brother: “Shawn had more power over me than I could possibly have imagined. He had defined me to myself, and there’s no greater power than that.”
Brief Synopsis and Review of The Stories:
These memorable characters allow me to rate both stories 4 Stars and to recommend these reads to others.
***Trigger warning: domestic abuse
The Great Alone is the story of a dysfunctional family that eventually moves to the harsh wilderness of Alaska to make a fresh start. In this page-turner by Kristin Hannah (author of The Nightingale), thirteen-year-old Leni watches her gentle and artistic mother struggle to live a happy and secure life with her father, a Vietnam War vet, who suffers from PTSD. A survivalist, her father becomes more paranoid and controlling as the story progresses. ***trigger warnings for emotional and physical abuse*** Leni, struggling to stay in school and walking on eggshells around her father, is also concerned about her mother and about their general well-being as the dark winter and isolation of the Alaskan wilderness cause her father’s symptoms to worsen. The first part of the story is slower-paced and devoted to establishing a sense of place, character development, and a slow build-up of the problem. The last part of the story unfolds at a rapid pace and there are attempts to escape and confrontations. Some have commented that the ending is tied together easily, quickly, and conveniently. This didn’t bother me too much because rapid emotional plot twists are Kristin Hannah’s style and part of me was eager and relieved to have closure to Leni’s story. If you’re looking for an engaging page-turner with an Alaskan wilderness setting, this is a good selection to meet that criterion. However, The Nightingale remains my favorite work by Kristin Hannah. My Rating for The Great Alone: 4 Stars. (March Amazon Rating 4.6 Stars)
Educated is a memoir by Tara Westover. Tara grew up as one of seven children in a Mormon family making their home in Idaho. Both parents are devout Mormons; however, her father is an extremist, survivalist, and he isolates the family while stockpiling supplies, avoiding the government, and planning for worst-case scenarios. While Tara’s soft-spoken mother makes healing herbs and ointments and practices midwifery, her charismatic father makes a living extracting and selling scrap from his junkyard. To avoid the government, the children do not have birth certificates, are not taken to the doctor, and most of them are homeschooled, although according to Tara’s account, Mom’s interest for homeschooling waned with the younger ones and to complicate the situation, Dad always needed help in the junkyard. Tara wished she could go to school, and I didn’t receive the impression that her parents would have kept her from school, it’s that she suffered from not having the right clothes, feelings of not belonging, and often felt pressured to help her father in the junkyard. Over the years she experiences mental and physical abuse from one of her brothers, becomes more dissatisfied with her chaotic home life, and her desire for education grows. With the encouragement of a brother, she decides to study independently for the ACT and make application to BYU. Thus begins her educational journey, her path of self-realization, healing, and ultimate separation from her family. Tara’s first classroom experience was at age 17. Readers will thoroughly understand and empathize with how difficult and emotional it was for her to take these steps as she’s a loyal girl who feels a great duty to her family. Tara’s understanding of “education “ is that with it, one can gain one’s own perspective on life. Here is Tara’s interview with CNN. If you’re looking for a compelling memoir similar to The Glass Castle, you might enjoy this selection. ***Trigger Warning: poverty, neglect, physical and emotional abuse. My Rating for Educated: 4 Stars. (March Amazon Rating: 4.7 Stars).
I’d love to hear all about the most memorable character(s) from your March reading!
Happy Reading Bookworms!
“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke
“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes
“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection!
Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text
I have several books on hold at the library (I’m #27 for The Force of Nature so that will be a while) and I’m waiting for kindle prices to fall on some new releases……consequently…….next Friday I’ll read and review a book already on my shelf, Eden by Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg (and check it off my winter TBR list).
What are you reading this week?
Reading Podcasts I Love
Reading Recommendation For Middle-Grade Girls Who Love Science!
Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins is a beautifully and creatively written middle-grade story exploring the lives of 3 girls who are curious, love questions and the world around them, and are persistent in pursuing their love of science and scientific inquiries. Each woman makes important scientific contributions, and I loved reading about them and the context of their lives. I’m not sure middle-grade students will read slowly enough to appreciate the beautiful prose and nuance/subtlety of language, so it might be a good “read together” book.
The author ensures that the girls exhibit some modern feminist thoughts that struck me as the author’s agenda rather than something girls in that era would usually think. However, these thoughts might provoke good conversation starters. For example: “But she hates embroidery, its worth measured by the smallness of stitches. A needle woman trains her eyes to stay cast down while hiding knots and boredom, committing herself to the circumference of a lap.”
An interesting extension read for adults might be The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe, a fictionalized biography of the first African-American woman (passing as white) to attend Vassar (the same college where Maria Mitchell in Finding Wonders was a professor).
Finding Wonders is an interesting, creative, and worthwhile read. It makes me eager to read all the untold stories! My Rating: 4 Stars
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