Two Books Everyone Else Rated 5 Stars: Educated by Tara Westover and The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman

There’s a good chance you’ve heard of both of these books because many people have rated them 5 stars. And, I really liked one and liked the other decently well. But, neither was a 5 star read for me. I liked Educated a lot and can’t point to any specific flaws in it, but it just didn’t have the extra oomph to push it from 4 to 5 stars. However, I did have some specific issues with The Gunners, which kept it at 3.5 stars for me.

Educated by Tara WestoverEducated by Tara Westover
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released February 20, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Random House)

Plot Summary: Westover tells her story of growing up in a survivalist Mormon family who didn’t believe in public education and her journey to break the mold by getting her PhD at Cambridge University.

My Thoughts: Imagine if you had to choose between getting an education (both the traditional kind and an education about life in general) and having a relationship with your family. That’s what happened to Tara Westover. Tara’s father insisted the whole family live “off the grid”…with no interaction with the government or modern medicine. Her journey to follow her passion for knowledge (both academic knowledge and common sense) and her battle with her family to be able to pursue an education is both heart-breaking and inspirational. I could feel Tara’s emotional tug-of-war over her own beliefs and the blood ties of her family…it was heart-wrenching. There are many parts that are hard to read…and that I’d have found totally unbelievable had this been fiction. If you liked The Glass Castle, Hillbilly Elegy (my review), and/or Under the Banner of Heaven (my reviewEducated should be next on your list!

Again I thought about the family. There was a puzzle in it, something unresolved. What is a person to do, I asked, when their obligations to their family conflict with other obligations—to friends, to society, to themselves?

The Gunners by Rebecca KauffmanThe Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman
Fiction – Literary (Released March 20, 2018)
261 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Counterpoint Press)

Plot Summary: A coed group of childhood friends (called “The Gunners”) gathers for the one of the members’ (Sally’s) funeral and tries to unravel what went wrong with their friendship group ages ago and what caused Sally to end her life.

My Thoughts: Many of my very best recommendation sources 5 star-loved The Gunners, so I was sure it would be 5 stars for me as well. Well…I liked it, but I did have some issues with it and I never considered rating it 5 stars (it’s getting 3.5 stars). I loved the story’s premise of a coed group of childhood friends coming back together in adulthood and secrets being revealed…it reminded me of Shotgun Lovesongs (my review), but Shotgun Lovesongs executed it better. The story meanders a bit in the beginning, but the story moves once the revelations begin. But, so many secrets are revealed that it felt like a game of whack-a-mole. And, I loved the characters, but the way they interacted in adulthood felt off…like the author was trying too hard. The adults tickle each other, Indian-wrestle, and tell scary stories (just like when they were kids), but all I kept thinking was “this is NOT how my childhood friends and I interact as adults…this just seems weird.” This coupled with the over-the-top whack-a-mole revealing of secrets made the story feel a bit contrived overall. For a different opinion, check out reviews at Novel Visits and Running N Reading.

“Sally taught me something about people that I never wanted to know.” Alice said, “What was that?” “That people can disappear,” Lynn said. “Right before your eyes. That you’ll never understand it and there won’t be a thing you can do about it.”

Have you read either of these popular books? What did you think?

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  1. Wendy wrote:

    I really liked Educated and it was a 5 star read for me. But after I read it, I checked the reviews on Goodreads and there are more than a few doubters. I chased some links and learned more about Tara’s mom’s oil business which is booming. Fact or fiction? I have to remind myself that this book was her story. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be another A Million Little Pieces, which sucked me in but had some holes in it too. Oh well, it made for a good read!

    Posted 5.10.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I’ve heard rumblings about all this stuff…but haven’t actually researched it myself. Based on the book, I think it would be hard to trust anyone in her family..including her. They all seem to change their positions and stories constantly and are easily influenced by other family members’ opinions and threats.

      Posted 5.16.18 Reply
  2. Kay wrote:

    I enjoyed hearing your thoughts about these, both of which I’m seeing everywhere. And I find that we each bring our own sensibilities to the books we read, which is why I think so many of us are a bit leery of the majorly shouted 5-star reads. Anyway, these both have sounded good. I may or may not get around to the second one – already have the first on my Kindle, but I’m thinking it would likely work better for me as an audiobook. Love the ‘whack-a-mole’ comment – that actually made me understand some things I’ve heard about the book better. LOL

    Posted 5.10.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:


      And I’ve heard Educated is great on audio!

      Posted 5.16.18 Reply
  3. I haven’t read The Gunners but agree with you on Educated. It’s a great story that I liked a lot but there was something missing and I’m not sure what.

    Posted 5.10.18 Reply
  4. Madeline wrote:

    Educated was a 5 * read for me. I was interested enough to check YouTube for interviews of her. She is amazingly poised. Still have a hold on The Gunner’s.

    Posted 5.10.18 Reply
  5. Torrie wrote:

    I read Educated a few weeks ago, and I STILL can’t figure out exactly how I feel about it! (Though I also gave it 4 stars!) I’m sure part of it is because I am a Mormon, and I had a hard time grasping how far off-base the parents’ understanding of the beliefs were (and it made me upset how those erroneous beliefs negatively affected the family). I couldn’t decide if the book was supposed to be inspirational or not, but it WAS definitely thought-provoking!

    Posted 5.10.18 Reply
  6. I agree with you about Educated. It was really, really good, but not quite an A read for me. You know I loved The Gunners, but I can see your points about the childish behavior and all the revelations. Those things just didn’t bother me.

    We need to find a book we both love!

    Posted 5.10.18 Reply
  7. I’m glad you liked Educated. I’m on an extremely long waitlist for it. I’ll probably end up buying it because it sounds like the kind of book I’d love. Great reviews!

    Posted 5.10.18 Reply
  8. Catherine wrote:

    Oooo…interesting about Gunners. My immediate sense about what you didn’t like it something that will bother me too so our twinness may kick in there.

    As for Educated, we’re on the same page. I really liked it but it wasn’t 5 stars.

    I’m really curious- I know Circe isn’t working for you and now seeing this about other recommenders makes me wonder. Do you feel like your reading tastes are changing?

    Posted 5.10.18 Reply
  9. Allison wrote:

    I’ll be starting The Gunners soon. I maybe should have read the book without reading your review–I have a feeling the weird adult interactions might bug me too. We’ll see if it stands out, and if the rest works for me.

    Posted 5.11.18 Reply
  10. I loved Educated. It’s the kind of story I’m particularly partial to in the first place, plus I thought the author was extraordinarily insightful into the reasons she and her family members were acting the way they were, plus I was so impressed that she was able to convey both her family’s abuse and their clear love for her.

    Posted 5.14.18 Reply
  11. Jan wrote:

    I had issues with Educated. It was a quick, fascinating read but some things just didn’t add up. After reading her brothers review (the brother who got out and is educated), I was bothered even more. But it’s a memoir, so it’s her story to tell as she remembers it. I do hope she wrote it in good faith and I hope she’s getting psychological help for the abuse she suffered.
    As for Gunners I think I’ll read Shotgun Lovesongs instead

    Posted 5.15.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Haha – I hope you wrote this comment after you got your personalized recommendation 🙂

      I need to research all her family’s reviews!

      Posted 5.16.18 Reply
      • Jan wrote:

        Yes I did and I’ve already started it, lol

        Posted 5.16.18 Reply
  12. kate sisco wrote:

    i recall a book i read about 5 years ago about a young women whose childhood was fraught with mom trouble, social worker trouble, barely escaping becoming another child mother statistics but was saved by teachers. Truly wonderful book. Cannot think of the name.

    Posted 9.10.18 Reply

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