Author: Tara Westover
Book Length (Audiobook): 12 hours 10 mins
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Autobiography
Read Start Date: January 9, 2019
Read Finish Date: January 14, 2019
Brief Summary of the Plot from 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.
My Review: I really liked this book, as disturbing as it was. I would go further to say that this is a must-read for 2019. The writing is great, and it reads truly like fiction, even though, alarmingly, it is not. I read (listened) to this book in only a few days, as it is honestly hard to put down. Educated is the true story of the author’s childhood growing up in a fundamentalist Mormon family in rural Idaho. It is a revealing story, which looks into the hard truth of Westover’s upbringing, and the author’s portrayal of her family and herself is at times scathing and highly critical.
The story parallels the fiction book The Great Alone in so many ways. In both stories, the protagonist grows up in the shadow of her overbearing, paranoid father. Westover’s mother is, like I imagine most women are in abusive relationships, meek and diminutive, bending to the whims of her husband, no matter how ridiculous or crazy. This is also true in the The Great Alone. Both fathers suffer from some form of mental illness, in The Great Alone it is PTSD, and in Educated, the author’s father is (undiagnosed) bipolar. Being conservative / fundamentalist mormon adds another layer to the complications of living with such a man, as Westover’s father becomes a prophet of sorts for his harshly conservative brand of Mormonism. His “testimonies” are the bedrock of the family ethos and are not to be questioned.
I have some spoilers below, so read on with caution.
After the Ruby Ridge incident in 1992, Westover’s father lived in constant fear of a federal raid, and interference from the “Illuminati” a.k.a the “Establishment”, which basically was anyone who was not part of their tight-knit community. He was afraid that the feds would kill his family too, because they lived more or less off the grid, did not visit doctors, or go to school. The children lived with this constant threat over their heads, and Westover herself would have nightmares about it.
Westover, like her siblings, was born at home, and didn’t even have a birth certificate until she was 9 years old. Her mother was a midwife (unlicensed and with no medical education) and operated an illegal business where she would deliver the many babies born in the Mormon community. Her mother also dispensed home-made herbal medicines and tinctures to others in the community. The children were not sent to public school, but rather “schooled” at home, which basically meant that they had no education whatsoever, as the mother rarely held “class”. Instead, the children were enlisted to work at the father’s scrap yard, where on several occasions the children were hurt pretty badly (and of course were only treated at home). Self-study was permitted, but often not done.
As if the father were not bad enough, Westover also had to deal with her older brother’s physical and mental abuse, which her parent’s glossed over as “non” events, or explained away with imaginary, innocuous stories. At least once “Sean” had broken Westover’s wrist and on another occasion threatened her with a knife. Luckily, some of the older Westover children were born before the father really slipped deep into his bipolar fueled paranoia, so Westover’s older siblings had some formal education. Following in the footsteps of some of her older siblings (I think there were 7 children all together), Westover decided to go to a Mormon college, and there she learned for the first time about the larger world outside her small home in the Idaho mountains.
A difficult transition, Westover soon realizes that her parent’s world, and the world she grew up in was abusive and wrong, and she, with great difficulty, ends up breaking all ties with that part of her family who now saw her as part of the “Establishment”. Luckily, Westover has the support of her new friends and mentors during this heartbreaking transition.