Nonfiction - Memoir
2018 Random House
Finished on November 22, 2020
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)
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.
Educated is a train wreck of a book. I cringed with every assault (both verbal and physical) by one of Tara's brothers, grew angry with her father's cruelty and paranoia, and shook my head in confusion at her mother's lack of nurturing and turning of a blind eye to the dangers of her husband's fanatical beliefs. While I admire the author's resilience and ability to overcome her lack of education, not only graduating from BYU, but advancing further to receive a masters degree and a doctorate, I was not impressed with her memoir. I was compelled to keep reading, eager for some climatic event that would bring her parents to some sort of acceptance and understanding of her choices in life. If not that, at least some event that would finally land her insane brother in prison. I grew more and more frustrated each time Tara returned home, unable to understand why she couldn't cut the ties to her dysfunctional family. I don't need to like all the characters in a book in order to enjoy it, but as I read the final page, I wondered what was the point? I love a good memoir, but this one left me cold and annoyed.