EDUCATED, Tara Westover

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 travelled too far if there was still a way home.

Educated┬áis an account of the struggle for self-invention. 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.

Richard’s comments
Very soon after the opening pages, a reader will become captivated by this story, a memoir of a girl raised in a rural setting. With no formal school education, Tara Westover proves herself to be a courageous, self-minded and courageous young woman whose life is challenged by a large family of diverse mentalities and indoctrination.

Westover’s memoir recalls many events and incidents which culminate in her becoming very well educated. The road to this ultimate education has incredible challenges and struggles which would likely defeat a less courageous individual.

An emotional roller coaster ride
The well written and comprehensive narrative pulls through a gamut of emotions. Every reader will enthusiastically cheer the author writing about how she has survived another violent or life-threatening incident. Readers will be surprised how they become angry and want to become aggressive supporters hoping to save the author when she describes her emotional battles with her extremely religious father.

Tara, the author, is raised by strict Mormons, in a family that labels females wearing short-sleeved blouses as ‘whorish.’ Socialization with peers of her age is beyond the realm of reality. Education in a public school anathema to the indoctrinated thinking of the family. What this young woman endures to become educated is incredible.

The descriptive narrative will captivate a reader, plunging them into an emotional vortex of anger and fury.

The most appropriate phrases that come to mind when one reads this book are:

“the mind of a social misfit living within a family of complete misfits;”
“insanity journaling about insanity;”
“the line between genius and insanity is razor blade thing;”
“religious fanaticism beyond description;” and
“incredible courage and determination in an environment unbelievable cruelty.

A reader will be amazed and shocked by the life lived by Mormons. Westover does not proselytize nor promote the Mormon religion but displays a world that likely would be an unacceptable way of life to many people. Yet, she tries to make it clear to her readers that this was family life for her, not a life to be rejected. She may have found many aspects of her family life as objectionable but family trumped everything else, violence, aggression, brutality even life-threatening incidents.

The emotional roller coaster on which readers ride never stops. Readers will anxiously hope she gets accepted into academic studies to which she applies, never believing she may have a chance of entering that world. The family is so poor, every opportunity for advancing herself became a mindboggling challenge for the young woman.

Every member of her family elicits different emotions from the reader.

Her mother is dedicated to homeotherapy, the development of homemade concoctions to treat all manners of illness and a broad range of maladies from headaches and burns to fractures and flesh wounds which should only be treated in hospitals. Besides being a home cure apothecary, her mother also was a highly reputed midwife in the rural mountain area in which the family lived in Idaho.

Her father, likely mentally ill, possibly a schizophrenic, at the very least suffering from a bipolar condition, was another constant danger to the young woman when he employed her in the family business of junkyard salvaging.

Even one of her brothers was a violent danger not just to her but to others in the family or family members by marriage.

Westover’s book is a tribute to the indomitable spirit of human determination, courage and perseverance. Her story is a polished narrative that will engage and entertain every reader. Her story is one of courage and resolve much like that of another American, Temple Grandin who dealt with her autism with amazing success.

Tara Westover writes a compelling story, a story where a young woman overcomes insurmountable obstacles to achieve incredible academic success and to live a fulfilling life.

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