I had seen Educated (2018) by Tara Westover everywhere. It was on all kinds of reading lists, reviews were showing up left and right, and my friends were all reading it. I put it on hold at the library, and waited the months and months before it came available. Then, right before I was about to read it, the holds on my library card somehow reset and I was suddenly waiting six months again! Fortunately, one of my friends had a hardcover copy and loaned it to me.
Educated is a memoir of Westover’s youth and coming-of-age in a family that is so crazy it’s almost hard to believe. It is both beautifully written and a story that feels intellectually honest, as Westover eventually struggles to find independence and her own truth. Westover grew up in the mountains of Idaho, helping with her father’s scrap business. Her parents are some kind of fundamentalist Mormon. She didn’t have a birth certificate, and didn’t go to school. Her father seems to be mentally unstable, perhaps bipolar, but he is the head of the family and controls what goes on there. Many times, this involves endangering his life and others while driving through storms or working at his various enterprises.
Tara’s mother was in a bad car accident resulting in what seemed like a very serious head injury. She was never the same after the accident. It makes me wonder if she would have been better at standing up to her husband and protecting her kids if she had not been dealt such a blow. However, it’s very possible that, even if she had been healthy, she would have succumbed to her husband’s forceful personality. One of the worst in the family, though, was Shawn, an older brother. He was absolutely cruel to his girlfriends, to Tara, to Tara’s sister, and eventually his wife. His actions are chilling, and I am disturbed that there is someone like him out there in the world.
When Tara’s older brother goes to college, Tara suddenly realizes that it might be possible for her as well. She studies and scores well enough on the ACT to get into BYU. Even though BYU is a pretty conservative school, it is still an eye-opening experience for Tara. The combination of being around people with different viewpoints and really learning about the world allowed her to view her family in a different light. In addition, with the help of some scholarships and financial help, Tara becomes much more independent.
Tara is obviously smart and a hard worker. She is able to move on from BYU to Cambridge and Harvard. I loved the scene when Tara discovers feminism and feminist writers–a viewpoint so far from what was shoved down her throat as a kid. Yet even as she learns how off kilter her family was, they’re still her family, and she doesn’t want to lose them. She tries again and again to be with them without giving up everything she’s learned about herself and the world.
I read this book very quickly. I found it very well-written and compelling. I was sometimes confused or wanting more information when it came to some of the accidents described. And I sometimes found it difficult to keep reading about Tara trying once again to come back to her family. I just wanted her to stay away from them! However, I understand why she would continue to try to connect. Definitely recommended.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.