Educatedby Published 20 Feb 2018
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.
Difficult to read. Impossible to put down. A powerful, powerful book that you shouldn’t miss. I can’t just leave it at that because Tara Westover’s story deserves more than those few words. I don’t often read memoirs, but when I do I want them to be told by extraordinary people who have a meaningful story to tell and that would be faint praise for this book. It sounds odd to say how beautifully written this is because we are not spared of the ugly details of what this family was about, but yet it is beautifully written. I had to remind myself at times that I wasn’t reading a gritty novel, that Tara and her family were real as I got more than just a glimpse of a life that was hard for me to even imagine.
A religious fanatic father, hoarding food and guns and bullets and keeping his family off the radar, not filing for birth certificates, not getting medical attention when they needed it, avoiding the government, the feds at all cost , keeping his children out of school, the paranoia, the preparation for the “Days of Abomination” - this is what we find in this place on a mountain in Idaho. There are horrible accidents and he won’t get medical help for his family. Her mother’s healing herbs and tinctures are used to treat the slightest scrape to the most horrible head injury or burns from gasoline to an explosion. If some thing bad happens it because that’s the will of the Lord. Her mother seems at times more sympathetic to her children, but she is complicit by her subservience to her husband. I don’t even know how to describe it other than gut wrenching to see the effects on this family of neglect in the name of religious beliefs and in reality mental illness. It isn’t just her father but the brutality by one of her brother’s which is more than awful and creates rifts between family members,
That she was bold enough and somehow found the will to rise above it all while she is torn with the sense of duty, of loyalty to her family, the ingrained beliefs, still loving her family is miraculous. Going to college was the first time she’d been in a classroom, not knowing what the Holocaust was, learning about slavery, the depression, WWII, the civil rights movement. She doesn’t just get a college education but ultimately a PhD from Cambridge, a Harvard fellowship. She struggles for years to discover who she was, who she could be - a scholar, a writer, an independent woman. This is a stunning, awe inspiring story that will haunt the reader long after the book ends.
Thank you to Tara Westover for sharing yourself with us. I received an advanced copy of this book from Random House through NetGalley. Thanks to my friend Diane for bringing this book to my attention. Without her review I might have missed this.
Wow! Tara Westgrove is one of the strongest, and bravest people I have ever read about! This woman grew up as the youngest child in a big survivalist, Mormon family, in Idaho at Buck Peak. So much danger for her in that life, mostly because of her father and one of her older brothers.
This memoir is so brutal at times and hard to read, your heart just breaks for this girl, and for some of her siblings.
Tara rises up to become extremely “educated” despite the fact that she never attended school, and was barely homeschooled.
Her academic achievements were fascinating to read about, especially with all the turmoil in her life.
Recommended!!!!! What a story!
Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for the advanced ebook!
A monumental memoir that should be required reading for all. The description doesn't do it justice. It's not about getting a PhD, it's about growing up in a family that doesn't believe in school, thinks doctors are a part of a sociologist conspiracy, and that any day the government will shoot them dead--if the end of times don't come first. The experiences Tara describes are horrific, yet oddly relatable--even if your family is nothing like hers (and let's hope it isn't). By the end, she has to come to terms with balancing family bonds and having the strength to see past their warped sense of reality.
There's really no words to describe it, but I'd start with moving, inspiring, shocking and un-put-downable. Stop wasting your time reading this review and start reading the book! IT'S SO GOOD!!!
Tara Westover’s book “Educated” is a distressing & discomforting - alarming & startling exposure of her Mormon fundamentalist family.
“Educated” is a memoir of nonfiction - but names and identifying details have been changed. Aaron, Audrey, Benjamin, Erin, Faye, Gene, Vanessa, Judy, Peter, Sadie, Shannon, Shawn, Susan, Robert, and Robin are pseudonyms.
Tara tells us in her authors notes:
“This is not about Mormonism. Neither is it about any other form of religious belief. In it there are many types of people, some believers, some not; some kind, some not. The author disputes any correlation, positive or negative, between the two”.
Yet....as I read this novel - I not only felt angry - sickened at times - but really conflicted too. I had duel thoughts from the beginning of this novel to the end. I ‘did’ think - in part this book was about Mormonism ( let’s call a spade a spade).
Tara and her siblings had backpacks filled with supplies to defend themselves ready to “head-for-the-hills” ....ready to run ( away from the government).
Her dad, Gene, feared that the government might one day try to intervene their lifestyle. They were living off the grid. The kids had no formal education, or medical care when sick or injured. Instead of going to the hospital when needed - their mother, midwife/herbalist cared for them with alternative remedies.
The government might have even brought in social workers to evaluate the health their family. Abuse? YES! This family stayed hidden. Abuse in many forms was hidden.
Tara’s memoir-impart- also details ( summarizes) the transitions and challenges entering the academic world -Brigham Young University- Harvard- Cambridge ( PhD in History). Her educational journey was interesting — some of it maddening to me also ....
not faulting anyone - but it was painful for me to discover just how ‘much’ about the world - life changing world events a 7 year old knew - at age 17 she ‘didn’t’ know - yet somehow was studying at a University. I questioned ‘how was this even possible’? Amazing. Tara had great support from a church entering college...which was wonderful.
At times I felt frustrated ‘besides’ some greatly disturbing horrific frightening descriptions during Tara’s childhood.
Tara’s academic accomplishments were extraordinary—but I couldn’t find her voice. She seemed - fragile - and often so uncertain of herself.
This book is very well written - ( gloomy -perplexing - and wearisome at times from repetitive trips back home to seek validation from her family)- but it seemed her education brought her almost as much pain as it did inner fulfillment. Because Tara disputes any difference between negative and positive —admirable in ways —I had a hard time getting an experience of ‘HER’. I admit it’s my own frustration. This young girl had a childhood I could never fully comprehend- or know what scars remain...but the fact stands — she's living proof that amazing change is possible. Tara calls that “an education”. Alright ....I agree....but I’m still sad and feel incomplete. ( it’s my problem - not hers).
There have been comparisons to this book and “The Glass Castle”. I understand that — but in reality they are presented very differently. Not only does Jeannette Walls not change any names in her book — she had just freedom to go on National television with her homeless mother. She didn’t need to hide or change identifying details. Tara Westover felt the need to keep names hidden. ( less freedom between the author and her readers for full- self expression). I understand- but a little less satisfying.
I DO FEEL THIS BOOK OUGHT TO BE READ ....
I DO SEE THIS BOOK’S IMPORTANCE....a story about an American family living by their own rules - ignoring others who don’t follow their beliefs.
WE SEE TARA WESTOVER’S SKILLFUL LYRICISM in this book....very impressive— one of the most inspiring aspects to me. With her achievements, education, and talent, we got a well-written fascinating SAD STORY.
I will think about Tara - worry & wonder about her in years to come. It killed me that Tara continued time and time again to seek validation - I’m not sure it’s over.
She kept going home to a place where her own brother tried to kill her —
She almost begged her mother to see her time and time again too— it was soooo painful to me that her mother rejected her ——but just as painful that Tara kept needing their approval. All so sad. I UNDERSTAND....yet I can’t see who she is through her own behavior.
Tara has an inspiring academic education— a relationship with 3 of her siblings but trying to regain a relationship with her parents - her violent brother - and even one of her sisters she was once very close to was like trying to get blood from a turnip....it just wasn’t possible. It made for very frustrating reading.
Why did Tara keep trying to fill her heart with the family that rejected her several times? And were abusive? And can a book education take that pain away? These are questions that lingered with me.
Tara had a sweet - warm- soft voice on NPR. Her interviewer called her dad a ‘character’. She agreed. All light and fluffy.
Tara share About MANY HAPPY CHILDHOOD MEMORIES on NPR. I was a little confused listening to her. Was she happy or angry? She seemed so happy about her childhood. Huh? Yet for years she suffered abuse which she tells us in her book.
She said the junkyard was playful and exotic, but was dangerous....but also fun.
She said the Mountain where she grew up was magical and beautiful.....but they were closed off from the rest of the world.
Duality....duality...duality ...... is a word that Tara used over and over again on NPR. Tara see’s two sides to her entire life. I felt a little “duality” in this story myself. I still feel Tara herself is hidden from this story.
Can’t put my finger on it. But one thing does hit home — we can’t meet the rest of her family like we were able to of Jeannette Walls. So - this is clearly TARA’S memoir....and I’ll respect it at that.
This is a valuable powerful read but I’m guessing there might be more to this story one day.
Thank You Netgalley, Random House, and Tara Westover ( congrats to you on your book - may you continue to find inner peace and happiness)
I’ve always prided myself on my ability to teach myself things. Whenever I don’t know a lot about something, I’ll read a textbook or watch an online course until I do.
I thought I was pretty good at teaching myself—until I read Tara Westover’s memoir Educated. Her ability to learn on her own blows mine right out of the water. I was thrilled to sit down with her recently to talk about the book.
Tara was raised in a Mormon survivalist home in rural Idaho. Her dad had very non-mainstream views about the government. He believed doomsday was coming, and that the family should interact with the health and education systems as little as possible. As a result, she didn’t step foot in a classroom until she was 17, and major medical crises went untreated (her mother suffered a brain injury in a car accident and never fully recovered).
Because Tara and her six siblings worked at their father’s junkyard from a young age, none of them received any kind of proper homeschooling. She had to teach herself algebra and trigonometry and self-studied for the ACT, which she did well enough on to gain admission to Brigham Young University. Eventually, she earned her doctorate in intellectual history from Cambridge University. (Full disclosure: she was a Gates Scholar, which I didn’t even know until I reached that part of the book.)
Educated is an amazing story, and I get why it’s spent so much time on the top of the New York Times bestseller list. It reminded me in some ways of the Netflix documentary Wild, Wild Country , which I recently watched. Both explore people who remove themselves from society because they have these beliefs and knowledge that they think make them more enlightened. Their belief systems benefit from their separateness, and you’re forced to be either in or out.
But unlike Wild, Wild Country—which revels in the strangeness of its subjects—Educated doesn’t feel voyeuristic. Tara is never cruel, even when she’s writing about some of her father’s most fringe beliefs. It’s clear that her whole family, including her mom and dad, is energetic and talented. Whatever their ideas are, they pursue them.
Of the seven Westover siblings, three of them—including Tara—left home, and all three have earned Ph.D.s. Three doctorates in one family would be remarkable even for a more “conventional” household. I think there must’ve been something about their childhood that gave them a degree of toughness and helped them persevere. Her dad taught the kids that they could teach themselves anything, and Tara’s success is a testament to that.
I found it fascinating how it took studying philosophy and history in school for Tara to trust her own perception of the world. Because she never went to school, her worldview was entirely shaped by her dad. He believed in conspiracy theories, and so she did, too. It wasn’t until she went to BYU that she realized there were other perspectives on things her dad had presented as fact. For example, she had never heard of the Holocaust until her art history professor mentioned it. She had to research the subject to form her own opinion that was separate from her dad’s.
Her experience is an extreme version of something everyone goes through with their parents. At some point in your childhood, you go from thinking they know everything to seeing them as adults with limitations. I’m sad that Tara is estranged from a lot of her family because of this process, but the path she’s taken and the life she’s built for herself are truly inspiring.
When you meet her, you don’t have any impression of all the turmoil she’s gone through. She’s so articulate about the traumas of her childhood, including the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of one brother. I was impressed by how she talks so candidly about how naïve she once was—most of us find it difficult to talk about our own ignorance.
I was especially interested to hear her take on polarization in America. Although it’s not a political book, Educated touches on a number of the divides in our country: red states versus blue states, rural versus urban, college-educated versus not. Since she’s spent her whole life moving between these worlds, I asked Tara what she thought. She told me she was disappointed in what she called the “breaking of charity”—an idea that comes from the Salem witch trials and refers to the moment when two members of the same group break apart and become different tribes.
“I worry that education is becoming a stick that some people use to beat other people into submission or becoming something that people feel arrogant about,” she said. “I think education is really just a process of self-discovery—of developing a sense of self and what you think. I think of [it] as this great mechanism of connecting and equalizing.”
Tara’s process of self-discovery is beautifully captured in Educated. It’s the kind of book that I think everyone will enjoy, no matter what genre you usually pick up. She’s a talented writer, and I suspect this book isn’t the last we’ll hear from her. I can’t wait to see what she does next.