While vacationing in Connecticut last month, I was very excited to see that a new book had been passed down from my sister in law, to my mother in law, had made its way to my nightstand. “Educated” by Tara Westover has been on my TBR list all year- Although I didn’t know what the story was about, I witnessed its popularity and was eager to dive in. Now, with the hardcover in my possession, the excuses evaporated and I prepared to make moves on this memoir.
First committed to the interests of my newfound book brigade, I followed the advice of the Instagram Community and created a free Doodle survey for my department’s book club, added a bunch of literary titles to see which ones held weight. Turns out, “Educated” was on trend at work, too. An entourage of “Educated” enthusiasts cheered as we marched past our 770-page August read toward something new.
It was a quick and fascinating account- I devoured the book in a weeks’ time. Tara Westover is a 32 year old historian and author with an astonishing academic background: Although she has a PhD from Cambridge University and an impressive collegiate footprint, she lacks any sort of formal childhood education, including a grade and high school diploma.
Tara’s mother and father were survivalists raising a family in rural Idaho: Her father was a zealous preacher, a devout Mormon who refused to have his children brainwashed by the government, medical establishment, or mainstream “gentiles.” He and his wife preferred self-sufficiency and isolation from all that lived beyond Buck Creak, the mountain that promised shelter and sanctuary for the Westover family. Gene ran a junkyard while his wife Faye maintained a discreet but reputable midwife service, helping others who also favored at home care. She was an herbalist, had gifts from God that could heal both small wounds and near fatal injuries produced from junkyard tasks gone wrong. All of the Westover children worked on the mountain, preparing for the “end of days,” assisting with family run operations, and learning about life as taught by Gene and Faye. It was not until Tara was seventeen that she began to truly peer beyond the hills and valleys of her home toward something else. Something different.
I appreciated how vulnerable Tara allowed herself to be in the book while explaining her road to self-discovery. She made no attempt to hide the inner dialogue that she was consistently plagued by; The voices in her head that stemmed from her father’s teachings and the words that lifted from the pages of her studies. She underwent a psychological transformation that touched mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries, and I loved that she tackled each with education. She pursued classes on psychology and religion and history and re-wrote her own story with the help of philosophers and doctors and activists alike. Tara’s strength was showcased early on in the book- she never called herself a victim of anything but persevered through a tricky childhood in the only way that she knew how- but the strength that she mustered to earn everything that she has now is inspiring indeed.
When the book ended though, I found myself still searching for more. I wanted to uncover additional fragments of Westover family secrets, not to judge, but to understand a broader picture. Did siblings have anything additional to say about the book? Were Tara’s parents still alive, and how did they feel about the book’s popularity? What did Shawn look like- Where is he now? Was Tara’s mother’s essential oils business still booming? I wished that the end of the book had some sort of visual component, even if it was just a few photos of the family. The book was so vivid, it felt so personal, that I yearned to put faces to names, educate myself as much as possible on their underlying motives. Tara had let me into her world, and I was spellbound.
Thank goodness for the internet.
Final Score: 4: I admire Tara Westover for her bravery in sharing her story with the world; Through her own journey of self- discovery, she invites others to look inside themselves and find their inner strength to achieve the impossible.
BEST FOR: Those who love a good memoir. Many compare “Educated” to “The Glass Castle,” a beautiful account by Jeanette Walls, and I would have to agree with that assessment. Walls book also shines.
NOT GOOD FOR: People who cast judgement on “different.” I saw a lot of Google reviews bash Tara’s mother’s essential oils business post-read, and I don’t think that Tara wished the cast a shadow on her family by writing her book. I like to think that her motives transcended that.
IF THIS BOOK/ AUTHOR WAS A HIGH SCHOOL STEREOTYPE: The Valedictorian that deserves a standing ovation for his or her compelling, inspirational story.
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