I am normally not a big fan of memoirs, but Tara Westover’s story, “Educated,” reads so well it is hard to believe everything she is writing is true.
Westover begins her story depicting her childhood in the mountains of Idaho. She familiarizes readers with the landscape: hills and mountains she and her brothers explore, the junkyard where her father works and her small home where her mother acts as the town’s herbalist. While this all sounds relatively normal and even idyllic, the moment Westover begins describing her family dynamic, it is clear something is off.
Westover’s father is a devout Mormon. This, combined with his deep mistrust of the government and survivalist tendencies, is the reason why Tara does not get a formal education. She describes her mother teaching her to read and write, but that is the extent of her schooling. None of this seemed too far-fetched for me; being a survivalist is a way of life.
As Westover gets older, she decides she wants an education. She faces multiple obstacles, from trying to get a birth certificate to taking the ACT, until she gets accepted to Brigham Young University. This is where the book really picks up. As readers, we go with Westover to her classes and feel embarrassed when she asks professors what the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement were. Everyone in the class thinks she is making some sick joke when, in reality, she was never taught about these events.
The entire memoir is written superbly. Westover takes a relatively linear approach to the events in her life, flashing back only to significant moments that affect her reasoning in the present. While watching her succeed in school was so satisfying, it was her behavior whenever she returned home that interested me most. She reverted back to her old self even though she knew better. One of the most infuriating parts in the memoir is her relationship with one of her brothers whom she gives the pseudonym “Shawn.” It shows that no matter how much she has changed, Westover’s home life will always be toxic to her.
I highly recommend reading this book. It paints a vivid portrayal of an unusual community in Idaho as well as the doubts and dangers that come with self-discovery. It is refreshing, rewarding, heartbreaking and one of the best books of 2018.