Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover

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Title: EducatedBook Review - Educated by Tara Westover

Author: Tara Westover

Publisher: Random House

Genre: Memoir, coming-of-age tale

First Publication: 2018

Language: English

Major Characters: Tara Westover, Gene Westover (Her Dad), Faye Westover (Her Mother), Shawn Westover, Charles, Professor Steinberg

Theme: Memory, History, and Subjectivity; Learning and Education; Devoutness and Delusion; Family, Abuse, and Entrapment

Setting: Idaho, Utah, Cambridge

Narration: First person


Book Summary: Educated by Tara Westover

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 of Tara Westover. 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.


Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover

Educated is a memoir of the growing up of Tara Westover. The book is split into three parts: growing up and her childhood; College, predominantly at BYU; and, further education and the cracking of familial relationships. This book, I found, was largely an exploration of her familial relationships and the empowerment of education.

This memoir starts off in Bucks Peak, where Tara grows up on the mountain, which was presented as very picturesque in writing. Without seeing pictures of the place, you could imagine the junkyard Tara use to play and work in, the animals roaming the sides of the mountain, her numerous siblings all playing around and living under her father’s roof.

“It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you.”

Tara’s father is a prominent figure in this memoir; a fundamentalist Mormon, he teaches the Mormon book as gospel and is incredibly strict in his teachings. He also states how he receives messages from God and all events in the world are leading up to The End of Days, the end of the world and so he ruthlessly enlists the help of his children and wife to prepare for this impending doom (this includes storing food and trying to dig a waterline into the mountain). Besides these views of grandeur, her father is also manipulative and often deceitful to achieve what he wants. He also has a very misogynistic view of what women should and shouldn’t be, how they should dress, etc.

Throughout childhood you see Tara complying with these ideals (for example, judging women on the length of their skirts if they are above the ankle). She doesn’t know any other way of thinking or critical thought as this is the only way she has been taught to think. She never attends school and is taught to reject societal conventions and to judge others who are unlike her, to see them as wrong.

“We are all of us more complicated than the roles we are assigned in the stories other people tell”

Tara also has to deal with an abusive and dangerous family member, her brother. He is incredibly manipulative and deceptive and uses violence. You watch her journey through self doubt and self blame, and even when she does accept it,. her family members turn a blind eye. These parts of the book were uncomfortable to read.

Through attending BYU and onto Cambridge for her doctorate, you find Tara developing as a person, but also admitting the strain between her life on the junkyard and her life at prestigious institutions in education. The gap between family and education broadens and conflicts her mind. Through education, she was empowered and her transformation was courageous. She is absolutely remarkably smart despite the containment of her family values causing her severe mental health problems. She develops critical thinking and analysis of her own life, freeing herself from the confines of her father’s teaching. The great thing about Educated by Tara Westover is that, despite her conflicts with certain family members, she was able to develop and create new familial relationships with others, leading to loving and trusting relationships.

“I began to experience the most powerful advantage of money: the ability to think of things besides money.”

Educated by Tara Westover was lyrical in prose and read as incredibly smart. From the outset you can see how smart and curious Tara was and is as a person. This book held the qualities of being heart-breaking and uplifting, but mostly exceedingly frustrating. This frustration was not from the writing but from how people can react to someone admitting that they were/are a victim of abuse. This was a remarkable story to read and Tara is an incredibly courageous and resilient person.


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