Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover

“On the highway below, the school bus rolls past without stopping. I am only 7, but I understand that it is this fact more than any other that makes my family different. We don’t go to school. Dad worries that the government will force us to go, but it can’t because it doesn’t know about us. Four of my parents’ seven children don’t have birth certificates. We have no medical records because we were born at home and have never seen a doctor or nurse. We have no school records because we’ve never set foot in a classroom.”

This book was all the rage last year. It made all the best of 2018 lists I saw but I consciously avoided it because I had read “The Sound of Gravel” by Ruth Wariner and it was being compared to it in certain circles and I decided that I didn’t have the stomach for it. For some reason, I still requested it from my library last year where I was so far down on the list and promptly forgot about it, until it was released unexpectedly to me earlier this month. I am super glad I didn’t have anything else to read, so I took a chance on it.

“To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s.” 

Tara was born to survivalist parents in the mountains of Idaho. They were fundamentalist Mormons and her father forbade hospitals, drugs, formal education and isolated them from mainstream society. Her father worked in a junk yard while her mother was a mid wife and that’s how they made their living as a family. Tara, never having been to a classroom, teaches herself math and grammar, takes the ACT and gets a high enough score to get admitted to Brigham Young University for undergrad. This book is about the tenacity of a child to want and envision better for herself than the life she was handed and to overcome the emotional and physical abuse she experienced in the hands of members of her family to go on to Ivy league schools.

“It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you, I had written in my journal. But Shawn had more power over me than I could possibly have imagined. He had defined me to myself, and there’s no greater power than that.” 
I quite enjoyed this book, I thought it was well written and interesting to read. I really enjoyed and appreciated the descriptions of physical and emotional abuse that comes with certain aspects of religion and I like how delicately she handled that. She stresses that this is not a story about Mormonism, but a story about her family. I found it fascinating how much she still wanted to be loved and accepted by her family, even after getting an education and attaining so much for herself.  Even after she had rejected their way of life and religion and calling out her older brother, Shawn, for the abuse he meted out to them.They were all she had known and she loved them dearly and did not want to be alienated from them.

“I am not the child my father raised, but he is the father who raised her.” 

One of the things I found contradictory about this book was how much leeway they gave themselves on their isolation from the government stance. They still had a phone and a television even though they never went to the hospital or school. They even filed taxes which I found  incredible considering how terrible her dad thought the government was. I thought he made a lot of excuses for the excesses he allowed himself but would dig his heels in on things like, going to the hospital when he was burned all over, on the basis of religion. The author felt like her father had undiagnosed mental health issues and without sounding like a couch doctor, I definitely agree that there were some medical issues that made him stick with some beliefs while completely disregarding them when it suited him.

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

A common criticism heaped on this book is questioning how much of this book is embellished. This was another reason I wanted to wait till the hype died down to read it for myself and make up my own mind. I do think that a lot of our memories might not be what they are.  But in the book, she consults the siblings she is still in contact with, to have them collaborate a lot of her memories and if she doesn’t remember something exactly, she lets the readers know that.

Also, having read the book, there is really nothing over the top that happens. I can see how this exact scenario can play out especially in the country I grew up in that is rampant with a lot of undiagnosed mental health issues masquerading as religion. I really enjoyed this one and urge people to read it with an open mind and away from the hype. I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads.



2 thoughts on “Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover”

  1. Okay so I just finally finished this book. The parts that felt embellished to me were the medical mishaps and subsequent recoveries which can only be described as miracles. Her brother shawn survived 2 brain injuries; one in which he was seemingly paralyzed and the other where a piece of his brain was exposed. Then the dad’s mega burn. Let’s not even talk about the mom’s brain injury as well If she truly had raccoon eyes. I guess I was sensitive to those because I am in the medical field. Other than that, like you I was completely enraptured by how she did not want to be alienated from the only family she had ever know no matter the abuse or crazy. I felt sad that her brother shawn continues to be free.


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