If you liked The Glass Castle or Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis or Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth Growing Up Poor then you just might like Educated. And “like” is not the appropriate word for any of these books really. Appreciated is a better sentiment. Because each of these is a tough read, hearing about someone’s struggles to fit in when everything about them sticks out, and is an affront to polite company. But Educated preeeeeeeetty much blows all of them out of the water, both in the quality of writing and in the harrowing and horrifying details of Westover’s life. In a continuum this book is closer to The Glass Castle than either of the two memoirs because Westover isn’t trying to claim that everyone else can bootstrap themselves out of poverty (Hillbilly Elegy) or highlight the stifling hold of poverty (Heartland) but rather she is telling her story.
Raised by survivalists in Idaho Westover grew up removed from mainstream life. She didn’t even have a birth certificate, though she received a “delayed certificate of birth” at the age of 10. (And still, even then, she is unsure of her own birthday, as family accounts differ). She received no formal education, either at a school or from home schooling, and lived in a traditional Mormon family with a father who by all accounts suffering from one or more undiagnosed mental afflictions. The ebbs and flows of his moods informed her life, and her siblings, as she grew up ignorant about the ways of the world. And did I mention the incredible violence of her brother, and silence of her family to his torment? Aaaand did I mention she someone gets through the ACT well enough to attend BYU?
Where the truth of this account lies is a little debatable. The family that Westover remains estranged from say that her account should be “taken with a grain of salt” but of course, they are the villains of the tale. Westover herself does a good job of highlighting where her account differs from that of other members of her family, and highlights her and their own inconsistencies. Much like if anyone tried to remember details of a pivotal moment of their life: after you tell and retell and account, and examine it for meaning, the details of the situation become gray and fuzzy. But with the great detail Westover goes through to examine the gaslighting she experienced, and how the doubt of her family made her question her sanity, I for one choose to believe her.