Synopsis (Goodreads): 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.
I’ve had a bit of a hiatus from posting book reviews and monthly summaries recently. Mainly this is because I found myself reading a bunch of psychology-related books and writing academic essays as of September, which didn’t leave much bandwidth for ‘fun’ writing.
Usually I find it takes that one book to inspire you to get going again, and recently that book was Educated. Occasionally, I’ve been known to start recommending books when I am only two to three chapters in, only to later regret the recommendation if the story or writing drifts, so let’s just say I now try to finish the book before recommending it. With Educated, it actually took me a couple of chapters to get into the story, but as I got deeper into it, I knew that it was one of those books that I wanted everyone to read…like the wave the book in front of their faces, buy 10-20 copies and give away read itttttt! Do I sound to gushy? Ok, I’ll try to stop.
Educated is Tara’s incredibly powerful journey of self-discovery, and one that is quite often difficult to read. For anyone who hasn’t grown up in as an extreme an environment as the one Tara describes – that of a survivalist Mormon family which doesn’t believe in a public system (including education) – it can be difficult to reconcile yourself with the choices and mindset that accompanies such a lifestyle. There were many times I found myself questioning how and why Tara kept returning to the environment in which she had been brainwashed, emotionally, and even physically abused. Probably because this was her family; a place she felt she belonged, even as she slowly started to drift apart by virtue of the path of education she had decided to follow.
I found Tara’s story to be an inspiring exploration of the strength and courage that it takes to overcome a limited worldview that has been imposed on you by those closest to you, rather than self-discovered. Having grown up in an environment where I pretty much took education for granted given how much learning and exploring the world around me was valued and always encouraged, it was humbling to learn about the costs someone is willing to incur to educate themselves, including losing their family.