A heart wrenching memoir. The description for this book said “in the tradition of The Glass Castle” and while that is true on the basic level, it is so much more. This is the story of a young woman’s life and eventual triumph over her background and the way she was raised. When I started the book I was quickly brought into the constant tragedy that was Tara’s early life – and then it hit me. She was not writing about a third world country or even a long time ago – she was writing about here in the United States and she is just a little older than my children. This was all happening while I was happily sending my kids to school.
Tara and her siblings grew up with survivalist parents in the mountains of Idaho. Not only were they not educated in a school system, there was also no structured homeschool system nor did they ever see medical professionals. While Tara attempts to enter a different world, the constant pull of family, at first, holds her back in so many ways. This book immersed me in Tara’s world and at times I needed to set it aside to allow myself some emotional breathing room before I was ready to read some more.
The only thing I did not enjoy about the book is the cover. At first glance, and with the title, I assumed incorrectly that is was an education resource book.
Tara Westover was seventeen 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 metal in her father’s junkyard.
Her father distrusted the medical establishment, 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 an older brother became violent.
When another brother got himself into college and came back with news of the world beyond the mountain, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. She taught herself enough mathematics, grammar, and science to take the ACT and was admitted to Brigham Young University. There, she studied psychology, politics, philosophy, and history, learning for the first time about pivotal 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 University. 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 from severing one’s closest 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.