Tara Westover’s coming-of-age story in her memoir Educated, is incredible, tragic, praiseworthy and monumental. From a young girl loving and believing everything her parents tell her, to questioning their logic and actively pursuing different answers and other ways of thinking, Westover has always had the inherent desire to know more. Reminiscent of Jeanette Walls’s The Glass Castle, Tara lives with her survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho, and similar to Leah Remini’s account of her time as a scientologist in Troublemaker, she begins to realize that everything she has been told may not be the truth, and though fiercely loyal to her parents and siblings, she feels trapped and begins to question their unconventional way of life.
Growing up working in a junkyard with her dad, helping her mom with her herbs and fighting off her violent brother, it is both shocking and hopeful to hear about Tara’s experiences as she takes the initiative to teach herself, and study her way to a decent grade on the ACT, ultimately getting herself into college and beyond. Growing up with some Mormon values, an anti-government philosophy at home, no education, never visiting a doctor, and spending days preparing for the end of the world, Tara’s naïvety is expected but concurrently astounding; she had never taken a test before, didn’t understand a reading assignment of a chapter meant you needed to actually read the words on the pages, had no idea what the Holocaust was. She had virtually no knowledge of the world outside of her family, the mountain and what her parents told her.
Westover’s account was enriched with intelligent, sophisticated and well-written prose. While reading, I kept thinking how she never went to school until college and how for me, in the world I live in, formal education in the formative years seems crucial at the time when children are developing. Clearly one can catch up on reading and writing skills and learn curriculum later on, but the social interaction, independence and decision making tactics we learn and experience in a school environment may be more important. Her devotion and loyalty to her large family, her abusive brother and her controlling father in particular, caused personal conflict and forced Tara to make painful decisions, which allowed her to flourish but continued to leave her with questions.
“When I was a child, I waited for my mind to grow, for my experiences to accumulate and my choices to solidify, taking shape into the likeness of a person. That person, or that likeness of one, had belonged. I was of that mountain, the mountain that had made me. It was only as I grew older that I wondered if how I had started is how I would end – if the first shape a person takes is their only true shape.”
Tara takes us through the complexity of her relationships, and when thinking about her father and his strength and conviction as a leader of the family, it makes me think, aside from his mental illness, if he came from a place of love. We all work with what we have, and if what we have is limited and we refuse to be open to learning more, we can appear stubborn and ill-informed, making poor choices. An open mind and a thirst for learning can bring people together, enlighten and revitalize. A small mind with no will to become more educated and hear other opinions can lead to either submission (drinking the Kool Aid, so to speak) or to conflict and rebellion. Tara loved her parents and as she became more educated, she was able to see their small mindedness and, unfortunately, that disparity broke them apart.
Educated: A Memoir is a powerful account of Tara Westover’s life, from living as a survivalist on a mountain in Idaho to attending Brigham Young University, Harvard and Cambridge and earning a PhD. She is extremely accomplished and a wonderful writer. Educated is available February 20th.
For more information on the author, please visit her website at tarawestover.com
Tara Westover is an American author living in the UK. Born in Idaho to a father opposed to public education, she never attended school. She spent her days working in her father’s junkyard or stewing herbs for her mother, a self-taught herbalist and midwife. She was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. After that first encounter with education, she pursued learning for a decade, graduating magna cum laude from Brigham Young University in 2008 and subsequently winning a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned an MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge in 2009, and in 2010 was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She returned to Cambridge, where she was awarded a PhD in history in 2014.
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