Author: Tara Westover
It isn’t often that I review, or even read, a new release. They can be expensive, virtually impossible to get from the library, and I often like to hear what others have to say first. This book was released in 2018, was on everyone’s “to read” list, and since it was recommended to me, I bought the hardback.
I was not disappointed. The book has won many awards, and I can see why.
Educated is a memoir, the true story of a woman who grew up among seven siblings in a family of separatist, survivalist Mormons living in rural Idaho and, however unlikely, now has a Ph.D. in history and political thought. Tara and her siblings were nominally homeschooled, very nominally. Their homeschooling consisted of books they could find around the house and life education working with their mother, a herbalist, midwife and healer, and their father, who ran a junkyard. That their father was brilliant but mentally unstable is not in doubt. Their mother was gifted and passionate about her work but unable to defend her children against the demands and eccentricities of their father. The children were not much more than free labor and had only each other for close friends.
As Tara grew older, she decided she wanted to go to school. Discovering there were no legal records of her existence, she struggled to get a legal birth certificate and finally made it into college. Needless to say, even though it was Brigham Young University, a Mormon school, Tara had a difficult adjustment. But as she began to adjust, she began to see the vast differences between the more contemporary Mormon culture and her own family. Tara’s continuing efforts to find her place between living in the world of her reclusive family and the wider world are the primary plot line for the rest of the memoir. As Tara continues to excel in her classes, she is introduced to an even wider world and goes overseas for some classes, where her intellectual gifts come to the attention of an influential professor.
All through Tara’s pursuit of her Master’s degree and her Ph.D., even as she continues to become more comfortable and successful, she is inextricably linked to her family and is just as conflicted when she is away from home as she is when she goes back for visits.
The fact that this is a true story is startling and unsettling. Thankfully, Tara Westover is an excellent writer, and, while surprising and even disturbing in places, her story has an engaging plot that moves it along at a good pace, so I wanted to turn every page. Tara’s ultimate personal success is a happy conclusion to a difficult personal story.
All that said, I highly recommend this book. At about 350 pages, it’s a good read by itself, but for a book group, it will most likely stir up a great conversation.