Mini Reviews: Now My Heart Is Full by Laura June and The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

Now My Heart Is Full by Laura June

My Rating: ? / 5 stars (This book was a DNF for me.)

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Laura June’s daughter, Zelda, was only a few moments old when she held her for the first time, looked into her eyes, and thought, I wish my mother were here. It wasn’t a thought she was used to having. Laura was in second grade when she realized her mother was an alcoholic. As the years went by, she spiraled deeper, becoming borderline abusive, and by the time of her death a few years before Zelda’s birth, the two had drifted apart entirely.

In Now My Heart Is Full, Laura June explores how raising her daughter forced her to come to terms with her own mother’s tragic legacy and recognize the connective tissue that binds together the three generations of women. She also confronts the complicated place that women’s drinking often occupies and interrogates the culture of drinking that surrounds our ideas of motherhood, reflecting on her own decision not to drink.

In beautiful and irreverent prose, she describes how coming to grips with the fact that Zelda would never know her grandmother, while trying to be the best mother she could be, forced her to reevaluate her own mother, who tried her best to raise her children while struggling with addiction. By confronting the day-to-day frustrations of new motherhood she exposes how, even a generation later, we still do not have the language to fully discuss the change that a woman undergoes when she becomes a parent. And only by experiencing the pain and joy of it herself is she able to make peace with her mother’s memory at last and find that, to her surprise, the two have more in common than she ever knew.

My Thoughts:

As mentioned above, I did not finish this book. I read around 50 pages before calling it quits. There was just something about the writing style that wasn’t grabbing me, leaving me disinterested. I even tried setting the book down for two days before trying again. This is the sort of memoir that I would normally really enjoy, which is the reason I’m sharing these few thoughts here. I didn’t read enough of the book to give a full review, but I was very underwhelmed by what I did read. I would not recommend this book.

Publisher: Penguin Books

Genre: memoir

Page Count: 272

ISBN: 0143130919

Available here from IndieBound.

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Set in modern-day India, it is the story of two compelling and achingly real women: Sera Dubash, an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife whose opulent surroundings hide the shame and disappointment of her abusive marriage, and Bhima, a stoic illiterate hardened by a life of despair and loss, who has worked in the Dubash household for more than twenty years.

My Thoughts:

Overall, I liked this book. The story is very well written and the language is often so beautiful, I would stop to reread lines. That being said, this book does not receive a higher rating from me for two reasons. One, being that this book is incredibly sad, and two, being that this story is nonstop heartbreak. Personally, I don’t mind when a book is sad, but I need some moments of levity to break things up. I need at least a few moments of hope to entice me to keep reading. Unfortunately, this book does not deliver. I would not recommend this book unless someone were very specifically looking for a sad story about two families in India.

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Genre: fiction

Page Count: 321

ISBN: 006079156X

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Space Between Us? What novel set in India would you recommend? Any interest in Now My Heart Is Full?

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Review: Educated by Tara Westover

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castle about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag.” In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

My Thoughts:

Westover’s life story is incredible. And I’m not using that word lightly. What struck me most about this memoir was that despite all the horrific experiences Westover endured, as well as the emotional and verbal abuse she suffered from her parents, Westover writes lovingly of her family. Throughout Educated, there is an undercurrent of ‘if only they would accept me, things would be okay.’ Even though she suffers no illusions about her past, Westover longs for her family to be reunited.

Some of the people in Educated felt larger than life. Like they couldn’t possibly really be this bad. It would be easy to refer to them as ‘characters’, but it’s important to remember that these are real people from Westover’s life. But the more you read this memoir, the clearer it is that the gaslighting, paranoia, mental illness, and distrust run deep. It would be easy to write off the Westover family. But Westover herself shows that nothing is black and white. Her parents thought they were doing right by their children. Her parents legitimately believe the things they believe. I’m sure we will never hear her parent’s points of view, even though it would be fascinating to hear directly from them.

Admittedly, I didn’t know much about Mormonism prior to reading this book. Most of my knowledge of the Mormon religion come from the musical, The Book of Mormon. I enjoyed learning more about Mormonism through Westover’s experiences. I’d be curious to see how her family’s more extremist take on the Mormon faith compares to other families’ experiences. But I also think it’s important that stories like Westover’s are told. Not only from a survivor standpoint, but I think it’s good to hear the life story of someone very different from one’s own.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book. I was consistently amazed at Westover’s life and the courage she had to overcome her upbringing. Her story will inspire readers to pursue their own education. Several times I set this book down while reading, needing to take a break from her life, which is a luxury that Westover herself never had. I would highly recommend this book to everyone, but especially for fans of The Glass Castle.

This book is…

inspiring

shocking

unforgettable

informative

well-written

This book contains content warnings for…

emotional abuse

physical abuse

Publisher: Random House

Genre: memoir

Page Count: 352

ISBN: 0399590501

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Educated? What books about the Mormon faith would you recommend?

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Review: Happiness by Heather Harpham

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A shirt-grabbing, page-turning love story that follows a one-of-a-kind family through twists of fate that require nearly unimaginable choices.

Happiness begins with a charming courtship between hopelessly attracted opposites: Heather, a world-roaming California girl, and Brian, an intellectual, homebody writer, kind and slyly funny, but loath to leave his Upper West Side studio. Their magical interlude ends, full stop, when Heather becomes pregnant – Brian is sure he loves her, only he doesn’t want kids. Heather returns to California to deliver their daughter alone, buoyed by family and friends. Mere hours after Gracie’s arrival, Heather’s bliss is interrupted when a nurse wakes her, “Get dressed, your baby is in trouble.”

This is not how Heather had imagined new motherhood – alone, heartsick, an unexpectedly solo caretaker of a baby who smelled “like sliced apples and salted pretzels” but might be perilously ill. Brian reappears as Gracie’s condition grows dire; together Heather and Brian have to decide what they are willing to risk to ensure their girl sees adulthood.

The grace and humor that ripple through Harpham’s writing transform the dross of heartbreak and parental fears into a clear-eyed, warm-hearted view of the world. Profoundly moving and subtly written, Happiness radiates in many directions – new, romantic love; gratitude for a beautiful, inscrutable world; deep, abiding friendship; the passion a parent has for a child; and the many unlikely ways to build a family. Ultimately it’s a story about love and happiness, in their many crooked configurations.

My Thoughts:

I’m grateful that Heather Harpham chose to write her experiences and share them in a book as a way for others to attempt to understand what she went through. I recently read an article on LitHub about the importance and power of ‘regular person memoirs’, or, essentially, someone going through something that many other people do. While having a sick child is not the most commonplace experience, it’s certainly more common than we’d like to think. It was astonishing to read about Gracie’s childhood and how her illness impacted her family.

Harpham’s writing style is simple, straightforward, and also meaningful. She writes eloquently about loss, motherhood, growing up, love, and family. I appreciate that she does not shy away from these difficult experiences. Instead, Harpham leans into them in order to better understand what happened. The title and subtitle of this book are spot on and make even more sense as the story progresses. Happiness is not always as straightforward as one might think. Instead, we must find our own ways to be happy and to find moments of happiness within more trying times. And as for the ‘crooked little road to semi-ever after’? I think it suggests that nothing is permanent and life does not always trod along as we’d expect. But despite life’s twists and turns, we can still find happiness.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I am amazed that Harpham was able to recount her experiences for others to read. She does so with grace, humility, and love. I read this book as an act of love for her family, through good times and bad. This is a pretty quick read and I would definitely recommend it. I think it would be a great choice for book clubs!

This book is…

moving

lyrical

well-written

heartwarming

engaging

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

Genre: memoir

Page Count: 320

ISBN: 1250131561

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Happiness? What memoirs would you recommend?

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Review: Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember by Christine Hyung-Oak Lee

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A memoir of reinvention after a stroke at age thirty-three.

Christine Hyung-Oak Lee woke up with a headache on the morning of December 31, 2006. By that afternoon, she saw the world—quite literally—upside down. By New Year’s Day, she was unable to form a coherent sentence. And after hours in the ER, days in the hospital, and multiple questions and tests, her doctors informed her that she had had a stroke.

For months afterward, Lee outsourced her memories to a journal, taking diligent notes to compensate for the thoughts she could no longer hold on to. It is from these notes that she has constructed this frank and compelling memoir.

In a precise and captivating narrative, Lee navigates fearlessly between chronologies, weaving her childhood humiliations and joys together with the story of the early days of her marriage; and then later, in painstaking, painful, and unflinching detail, the account of her stroke and every upset—temporary or permanent—that it caused.

Lee illuminates the connection between memory and identity in an honest, meditative, and truly funny manner, utterly devoid of self-pity. And as she recovers, she begins to realize that this unexpected and devastating event has provided a catalyst for coming to terms with her true self—and, in a way, has allowed her to become the person she’s always wanted to be.

My Thoughts:

The non-linear structure of this memoir is extremely well done. It reminded me of memory and the ways in which we remember our lives. It then makes sense that Lee would bounce back and forth in time as she connects events and draws connections and parallels within her life. Lee writes about memory from both a scientific standpoint and a personal one. Yes, memory is science, but it also feels emotional and very unscientific.

As someone who has survived a couple traumatic events, I appreciated the ways in which Lee writes about trauma and survival. I particularly related to Lee’s husband as he transitions to a caretaker role following her stroke. The job of a caretaker is a difficult and thankless one and I greatly respected the eloquent ways in which Lee describes this new role for herself and her husband. Lee writes that this stroke both ruined and saved her life, and as someone who has survived trauma, I agree with that statement.

Being a writer, Lee frequently writes about her writing as a way of coping and recovering after her stroke. She especially mentions Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and makes beautiful use of his phrasing, “and so it goes.” This theme repeats throughout Lee’s memoir, and I found myself relating strongly to this phrasing and her use of it. When tragedy strikes, life moves on. The world keeps turning. It is up to us to determine how to move forward, how to get up and live another day. “And so it goes.”

Wrap Up:

Overall, I thought this book was fantastic. Lee writes beautifully about her recovery, the high points and the low ones. It was fascinating to learn more about strokes and the science behind both the stroke itself and the recovery process. In the few days it took me to read this memoir, I found myself slightly panicking everytime I couldn’t immediately think of a word! Clearly, this memoir hit home for me. I highly recommend this quick read.

This book is…

haunting

lyrical

profound

memorable

well-written

Publisher: Ecco

Genre: memoir

Page Count: 272

ISBN: 0062422154

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember? What sorts of memoirs do you like to read?

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Review: What Happened by Hillary Clinton

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

For the first time, Hillary Rodham Clinton reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history. Now free from the constraints of running, Hillary takes you inside the intense personal experience of becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major party in an election marked by rage, sexism, exhilarating highs and infuriating lows, stranger-than-fiction twists, Russian interference, and an opponent who broke all the rules. This is her most personal memoir yet.

In these pages, she describes what it was like to run against Donald Trump, the mistakes she made, how she has coped with a shocking and devastating loss, and how she found the strength to pick herself back up afterward. With humor and candor, she tells readers what it took to get back on her feet—the rituals, relationships, and reading that got her through, and what the experience has taught her about life. She speaks about the challenges of being a strong woman in the public eye, the criticism over her voice, age, and appearance, and the double standard confronting women in politics.

She lays out how the 2016 election was marked by an unprecedented assault on our democracy by a foreign adversary. By analyzing the evidence and connecting the dots, Hillary shows just how dangerous the forces are that shaped the outcome, and why Americans need to understand them to protect our values and our democracy in the future.

The election of 2016 was unprecedented and historic. What Happened is the story of that campaign and its aftermath—both a deeply intimate account and a cautionary tale for the nation.

My Thoughts:

This is a hard book to review. I still have so many feelings about the 2016 election and this memoir brought much of that rushing back. Unsurprisingly, Clinton writes movingly and intelligently about her experiences surrounding that historic event. The book breaks into several themes and within each theme, chapters. I found this to be an effective way to cover over a year’s worth of emotions and experiences. In particular, I loved her sections on ‘Sisterhood’ and ‘Idealism and Realism.’ Two two sections especially resonated with me as Clinton shared about many of the people she met while campaigning, what it’s like to be a woman in politics, and the vast significance of this particular election.

I found the ‘Frustration’ section to be, well, frustrating. This was by far the most difficult section for me to read and I often needed a break to calm myself down. Clinton writes intelligently about the interferences with the election, as well as the Trump campaign as a whole. I was left feeling newly angered by the election. But Clinton beautifully segued into a message of hope, hard work, and resiliency. Yes, the past two years were difficult but we’re not through fighting.

I think this book is a must read. Likely not so for the die hard Trump supporters, but for those who voted for Clinton, abstained, or voted for someone else despite leaning left. Clinton rightfully talks lovingly and knowingly of American democracy and the ways in which we are all failing it. For me, this book felt like a call to action and a call to do better next time.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really liked this book. It’s certainly hard to read at times and I cried more than once. But this book is an important read. Hopefully, with time, this book will be easier to contemplate. But after reading this book, I am especially proud to say I voted for Hillary Clinton.

This book is…

poignant

intelligent

frustrating

feminist

emotional

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Genre: memoir

Page Count: 464

ISBN: 1501175564

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read What Happened? What books have you read about the 2016 election?

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Review: Code Girls by Liza Mundy

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In the tradition of Hidden Figures and The Girls of Atomic City, Code Girls is the astonishing, untold story of the young American women who cracked key Axis codes, helping to secure Allied victory and revolutionizing the field of cryptanalysis. Recruited by the U.S. Army and Navy from small towns and elite colleges, more than ten thousand women served as codebreakers during World War II. While their brothers and boyfriends took up arms, these women moved to Washington and learned the meticulous work of code-breaking. Their efforts shortened the war, saved countless lives, and gave them access to careers previously denied to them. A strict vow of secrecy nearly erased their efforts from history; now, through dazzling research and interviews with surviving code girls, bestselling author Liza Mundy brings to life this riveting and vital story of American courage, service, and scientific accomplishment.

My Thoughts:

Code Girls did a lot of things really well. Liza Mundy took on the tremendous task of explaining complex codes and the techniques required to break them. I’m not saying I could be a code breaker, but through Mundy’s descriptions I did follow along quite nicely. This book also captures shifting sentiments about the war and a woman’s place in it. I found myself simultaneously fascinated and disappointed when reading that women were only allowed to be code breakers because it wasn’t considered a real job, nor a difficult one. It’s hard to remember that sexism was alive and well during wartime.

Mundy also did a fantastic job of capturing these women’s voices. In her use of direct quotes, letters, and diary entries, Mundy ensured that these women told their stories. As a reader, I learned about more than their secret work for the government, but also about their families, love interests, and friendships. These women led varied and fulfilling lives and found their work to be of the utmost importance. It was an honor to read their stories.

For me, though, this book did little more than touch on the ways in which race and class affected these women’s lives. The majority of the women hired by the Army and Navy were recruited from colleges, which obviously required a specific level of intelligence and financial background. Additionally, these women were predominantly white. Ultimately, Code Girls is about well-off, well-educated, white women and how they shaped the war effort. This is all well and good but I find it difficult to believe there weren’t more women of color working in the code breaking department, too. Where are their stories? They deserve more than the one or two paragraphs featured in this book.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! It did take me awhile to read it, but that was more due to life than any book issues. I found this book to be incredibly informative and I think it should be required reading in any course that covers America’s involvement in WWII. This book is great for history buffs and those who enjoy puzzles.

This book is…

well-researched

personable

educational

inspirational

engaging

Publisher: Hachette Books

Genre: non-fiction

Page Count: 640

ISBN: 0316439894

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read Code Girls? What’s your favorite non-fiction read?

I am an affiliate with Book Depository and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!