The author’s coming of age in 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, Tara Westover has the inherent desire to know more. Reminiscent of 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, Tara begins to realize all she is told may not be the truth and although she is fiercely loyal to her parents and siblings she feels trapped and begins to question their nonconventional, 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 shocking, admirable and hopeful to hear about Tara’s experiences as she takes the initiative to study her way to a decent grade on the ACT, ultimately getting herself in to college and beyond. Growing up with some mormon values, anti-government, no schooling, never visited a doctor, and spending days preparing for the end of the world, her naivety 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 surprisingly intelligent, sophisticated and well written prose. (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 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 in a school environment, providing experiences, 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, he came from a place of love. We all work with what we have, and if what we have is limited and we are not open to learning more, we can appear to be 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) or conflict and rebellion. Tara loved her parents and as she became educated, she was able to see their small mindedness and unfortunately that disparity broke them apart.
Educated is a powerful account of Tara Westover’s life, from living as a survivalist on a mountain in Idaho to attending Bringham Young University, Harvard and Cambridge and earning a PhD. She is extremely accomplished and a wonderful writer. Educated is available February 20th.
As Seen in Goodreads:
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.
About the Author:
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, and after that first taste, she pursued learning for the next decade. She received a BA from Brigham Young University in 2008 and was subsequently awarded 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.