Review: Educated

“My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.” Tara Westover

Educated by Tara Westover
493 pages
Genre: Memoir, non-fiction
Published by Random House, 2018
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Indiana
Re-readability: I might come back to this one someday.
Spoiler-free review

I usually enjoy memoirs and biographies. I like learning about other lives and paths.

While I highly recommend this book (I rated it 5 out of 5 stars) saying I enjoyed it would be false; I couldn’t help reading it. This book haunted my dreams and sometimes my waking moments.

Tara Westover, if you don’t already know, had a highly unusual upbringing. Born in Idaho to a family of survivalist Mormons, Westover and her siblings didn’t go to public school. They were sometimes homeschooled by their mother, but that often fell by the wayside when their father had work for them to do in the junkyard that he ran.

Her father plays an essential role in the family and in Westover’s life; he’s the one calling most of the shots in the family. But he clearly struggles with mental illness, as do one or more of his sons. He’s abusive and unconcerned with the welfare of his children to the point where he asks them to do incredibly dangerous work even from a young age. He also doesn’t trust the medical establishment; he believes that they’re somehow tied to the government, another entity he doesn’t trust. Thus, whenever he or his children seriously injured themselves, he wouldn’t allow them to go to the hospital. He claimed instead that God would work through either his wife or some other method to heal them.

That alone is terrifying. But that was only the start of why this book was so haunting.

Westover’s brother, who she was once very close with, became more and more physically and verbally abusive as Westover entered her teenage years and it didn’t end with adulthood, even after she was able to leave Idaho and go on to some of the most elite universities in the Western world. Who knows, it could be continuing today.

Of everything in the book, that haunted me the most. Here’s this woman who has somehow managed to not only “catch-up” from years of not being in school, but go well beyond the education level of the general population. Yet, she hasn’t really left Idaho in some ways. Her past, which was incredibly tough, but had loving and beautiful moments, is still there with her.

At the end, there’s a few scenes where she returns home again and as a reader, I just wanted to scream and shake her shoulders; to tell her to snap out of it and just stay away from these people. But you realize that at the end of the day, they’re her family and that’s a bond no level of education or distance of time or miles can really brake. Educated has been compared to Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance, and while both authors grew up poor and went on to become highly educated, I’m not sure it’s an apt comparison at all. Vance was trying to explain something about the way he grew up, about his family and the culture he comes from. But Westover wasn’t trying to explain anything about her culture or her family, she wasn’t really even trying to prove that “any one can make it.” Westover was simply telling her story; the heartbreaking, encouraging and often disturbing story it is.

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