EDUCATED BY TARA WESTOVER
e-book arc given to me from the author/publisher through NetGalley—thank you for the gift of reading–all opinions here are strictly my own
“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 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…”
I love to read the occasional memoir, and even more so if it’s a non-celebrity person who rose from adversity to make something special of their life. When I opened Educated, I had no idea what I was in store for. Tara’s family is so beyond my understanding of a dysfunctional, mentally troubled family that it was difficult to believe that this was actually a memoir and all of this had really taken place.
Not only did the seven children never go to a doctor or school (and half didn’t even have a birth certificate) it just amazed me to read of the conditions that they had to endure. Because they lived off the grid on the side of a mountain in rural Idaho, they were isolated from other people besides the members of their tiny Mormon church and the mother’s midwife “clients”. The children didn’t know any better at first, but then when faced with the notion that people out in the world did things differently, thought about things differently than their family, they stubbornly held to the belief that they were right and everyone else was wrong– an “us against them” mentality.
Their father suffered from a mental illness, probably bi-polar but undiagnosed, and he ruled the family with an iron fist fueled by a self-proclaimed prophet’s fervor. Their mother started off her marriage meek and submissive but eventually discovered a backbone and stood up to her husband– not to protect the children from the absurdity of their living conditions– but to start her own midwife and herbal remedy business. She had no formal training but allowed her visions from God to guide her, and eventually she became as delusional as her husband (possibly from an untreated traumatic brain injury from a car accident), discarding common sense for blind faith. They lived in a constant state of fear that the government would come for them with guns drawn and they spent much of their money prepping for the end of days. They happened to live near Ruby Ridge, where a family faced off with the FBI with violent results, and in the father’s twisted brain that validated his belief that the government was coming for them.
The children didn’t suffer actual beatings from their parents; instead it was hours-long droning lectures from the scriptures berating them. It was abuse through being kept fearful of attacks by snipers, by allowing the older brothers to beat up the younger siblings, by not getting help for several of the siblings who had learning or emotional disabilities. It was abuse because they were brought up like a pack of feral animals with no training in personal hygiene, and their parents didn’t even know their exact birthdates, nor did they care. The children were used (even the 2 girls) to work in the father’s construction & junkyard salvage business without a care for safety procedures, and many times the children were burned, bruised, impaled, concussed and more by the equipment in the course of the work, but never brought to a hospital because the mother would “heal” them. If not, it was God’s will that the injury happened.
The worst abuse was the brainwashing that occurred, because their father “knew” the right path through God’s messages… and even after the children were exposed to other people, even other Mormons who didn’t think and act the way they did… the children chose to keep to the ways of the family as teens. Then the family’s dysfunctional lifestyle was heartbreakingly passed on to the next generation for several of Tara’s siblings who couldn’t break the cycle of abuse, neglect, and poverty.
I could go on but I won’t, because it’s necessary to read this memoir to understand how far Tara Westover pulled herself up and found her self-worth. The girl who: had never been taught to wash her hands but had been taught how to prep for a government attack, never had her wounds cared for with medical attention but was expected to treat her sibling’s burned leg when she was only a child herself, who never entered a classroom or had access to educational books, who worked all day alongside grown men on rooftops and in pits of shrapnel-sharp metal in a junkyard, and who never knew there was a society outside her family that didn’t hold these same off-kilter beliefs… this girl entered BYU at age 16 then went on to Cambridge to earn her PhD. She also wrote this fascinating book, all the more engrossing because it reads like fiction but it really happened.
I recommend this one to all memoir readers and most nonfiction lovers, but even those who prefer fiction will be flipping the pages to find out what happens to the author, who found her own voice and an awesome strength as an independent woman..
Amazing! 5/5 stars