Educated: A Memoir
By: Tara Westover
# of pages: 334
Challenge: Full House (memoir), A to Z
Quote: “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. I have often wondered if the most powerful words I wrote that night came not from anger or rage, but from doubt: I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
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: This was an incredibly interesting memoir. My mom had told me a little about it, but I wasn’t prepared for the shock of all the details put together. I grew up in a conservative religious homeschool community and at the risk of exaggerating my upbringing or trying to “one up” Westover’s story, I could at times see some similiarities (thankfully not the violent aspects). I’ve said it many times over the years, but I’m glad my parents weren’t as legalistic as many of the parents in our community and now I’m even more glad. I’ve changed a lot over the years and while I’ve retained some of my upbringing, there’s even more I’ve left behind. Times are changing and I have hope for the future. Westover’s memoir gives me even more hope.
The sad aspects, besides what’s stated in the book’s description, is the confusion and heartache Westover experienced as she left her family behind. I often hear people judging women who live in abusive environments. Why don’t they leave? Can’t they see they aren’t safe and their life is literally at stake? If they obviously have the means to leave, what’s keeping them in the relationship? This problem isn’t unique to Westover. We’ve all heard about people who remain in abusive relationships and situations, as confusing as it seems to outsiders. So Westover’s accounts of her struggle is incredibly honest.
I also appreciated the gradual change she made in her worldview. Not everything she had been taught was wrong, but she had to analyze everything and come to her own conclusions. Sometimes she admitted she didn’t have the answers and didn’t understand. I think that’s a mark of a truly educated person. I’ve tried to do that in my own life. Religion, politics, lifestyles…I’ve had to think about all of that and accept that other people think and live differently. Another quality of an educated person is to continue thinking about these things and being open to change.
I wish Westover happiness and acceptance in her future. I also recommend this book to everyone because it’s important to realize that as foreign as her previous situation sounds to many of us, it still happens to people in this modern era in which we live. Take it from me, it’s thought provoking and will make you think about your own upbringing, beliefs, and actions.
Why I gave this book 5/5 stars: Well written, interesting subject, thought provoking.