Educated is a force of nature. There is very little I can say here that hasn’t been said already, and probably more eloquently, but Tara Westover’s memoir about growing up the daughter of Mormon survivalists in Idaho was one of the best books I read in 2019.
Oh, it is only January 6th? Nah, I stand by it.
Educated felt like a combination between The Glass Castle and Beyond Belief while still remaining in a class all its own.
“It happens sometimes in families: one child who doesn’t fit, whose rhythm is off, whose meter is set to the wrong tune.”
Tara’s father was a religious fanatic who also feared the government; he forbade his children to attend school or go to hospitals if they were injured, which happened a lot, and Tara didn’t even have a birth certificate until she was nine years old. Her father, Gene, ran a junk yard and did occasional construction work to make ends meet while her mother was an unlicensed midwife who sold herbal remedies. Her older brother, Shawn, suffered multiple accidents to the head that altered his personality making him cruel but since he was a man and she was a girl her story was never believed. Those passages are the hardest to get through although the retellings of all the gruesome accidents her family members suffered come in a close second.
When Tara was 17 she decided to study for the ACTs at the suggestion of one of her other brothers, Tyler. Miraculously she scored high enough on her second try and managed to get into the school under the white lie that she had a formal home schooling education. Once at Brigham Young Tara began to discover that the world was infinitely bigger than she had been raised to believe including an embarrassing incident where she admitted to her college professors she hadn’t heard of the Holocaust before. While at BYU Tara was surrounded by fellow Mormons but they seemed wild compared to her particular brand of Mormonism (side note: if Brigham Young is a culture shock can you imagine if she’d had the guts to go to Arizona State or Texas Tech??) and she struggled with her roommates because hygiene had never been enforced or even suggested at home.
“The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones she would have made. They were the choices of a changed person, a new self.
You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal.
I call it an education”
Tara is an eloquent writer who weaves the trajectory of her personal education of the world around her with her formal education at BYU, Oxford and Harvard. I do think a lot of luck went into Tara’s continued education, she had several champions and received a lot of financial aid, but Tara’s grit and resilience were indispensable to her eventual successes. I cannot say enough good things about this memoir and I hope to see a hundred more reviews on this one was Cannonball 11 continues!