Educated

Educated by Tara Westover

Tara Westover was 17 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.

Author: Tara Westover

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Rating: 5/5

“My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.” 

I may be a little late to the party, but oh man — am I glad I came. I do read memoirs regularly, but this was unlike anything I’ve read before. It’s hard to describe why, but it’s just good. It’s just really well written, really engaging, really fascinating, and really emotional.

Tara Westover grew up in the mountains of Idaho in a secluded, traditionalist Mormon family who believed that the end of the world was coming and that doctors and public schools are evil. And yet she managed to pass the ACT (despite never having spent a single day in school), go to college, and then get a PhD from Cambridge. But the more she learned, the more distant she grew from the family she’d always known and loved.

“To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s.” 

It’s hard to read books like this, to realize that there are real people like this. But Westover never once comes across as boastful for having “escaped.” She’s calm and smart and warm. Impressed is not a strong enough word for how I feel about her writing, not to mention her strength and self-awareness.

Read this book. Trust me.

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