Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover is a book I initially didn’t want to pick up when it released earlier this year, as it didn’t sound like a book I’d be interested in.
I admit it: I was wrong! Although I regret not reading Educated earlier, I’m still glad that I had the opportunity to read it after purchasing it in an awesome independent bookstore perfectly titled “Books, Lines, and Thinkers” during my vacation in Rangeley, Maine.
Educated is the story of Tara Westover and her life growing up in the mountains of Idaho with a father who had her lugging metal for his junkyard, and a mother who was a self-taught herbalist and midwife. She was raised as a fundamentalist Mormon, and her family believed that even the Mormons they went to church with were sinful and weren’t going to be saved when the apocalypse came. As part of preparation for the apocalypse, they stocked up on food, water, and weapons and buried them on their property.
Her father was paranoid and against the federal government and public education, so Tara never went to school. She never had a birth certificate until she was older and asked her mother to help her get one, but she and her mother had conflicting dates on her DOB (although they both agreed that she was born toward the end of September). At one point when 16-year-old Tara got into an argument with her mother about school, her mother replied that she was 20 years old at this point. Her parents didn’t know the day she was born, let alone her age.
The hardest part about reading this book is that I had to keep reminding myself that this didn’t happen in the ’60s or ’70s—this all takes place in the ’90s through current times. But the way that Tara lived was so backwards you can’t help but keep thinking that her story took place much longer before the ’90s. While other kids were watching Nickelodeon and Disney movies or establishing grade-school friendships, Tara’s father was forcing her to jump into dumpsters full of sharp aluminum and tin (without a tetanus shot—because her father didn’t believe in doctors and medicine).
Throughout her crazy childhood, Tara slowly began dating and assimilating herself into modern society by taking part in school plays (until her father would eventually nix most of these plans), and she was eventually able to break away by getting accepted into Brigham Young University in Utah. She had a lot of trouble fitting in, whether it was because her roommates were disgusted by her lack of hygiene, or her own prejudices against other female college students and the way they dressed in class. At one point in a lecture, she raised her hand and asked for the professor to explain what the word “Holocaust” meant, and she is reprimanded for making a mean joke.
How someone can live in the world yet know so little about it is absolutely mind-boggling and unbelievable. Tara goes through so many problems that no child should go through—a physically abusive brother, parents that disown her for being “against the family,” not getting a proper education or medical treatment—but she is not asking for a pity party in Educated. She just wants to tell the story of her life, as far-fetched as we may think it is.
Educated is one of the best memoirs I’ve read, not only because it is a literal page turner and a book that you will not be able to put down from the moment you read the first page. It’s worth reading because there are other people who grew up like Tara who exist in the U.S. today, and don’t have proper access to education or medicine. It also puts a spotlight on mental illness (her father and brother) and depression (her own), along with how it can affect not just one’s self but their family and friends. My only issue with the book is that it feels that Tara wrote it too soon. Although the raw emotion is what makes it a great memoir, it does feel like she still has not come to terms with the abuse she suffered by the hands of her family members.