When “Educated” first came out in 2018, I remember seeing the book in the “new non-fiction” section of Litchfield Books. My first reaction was that it was shelved in the wrong area. The jacket description read like fiction. At the time, I passed over this seemingly depressing memoir of a turbulent and disturbing childhood in a survivalist home in rural Idaho.
But recently, I heard the author, Tara Westover, interviewed on Kate Bowler’s engaging podcast “Everything Happens…” and I was completely drawn in and bought the book on my next trip to the bookstore.
“Educated” didn’t disappoint. It took me less than a week to read. The story boils down to one of control and how the author learned in very hard ways that she could have control and agency over her life despite her very unconventional upbringing. This triumph came despite her father’s fanatical religious beliefs, years of abuse by her brother, lack of schooling and almost complete isolation from the outside world.
While most kids grow up with some sense of their family’s way of doing, believing and living is the “right” way, Tara’s family lived the extreme of this. Her father believed the government, along with the medical and education establishments, were the work of the devil. He aspired to a stockpile of food, gasoline and other supplies that could outlast any “end of the world” scenario.
Tara’s achingly honest writing describes her early glimpses of the outside world and how she came to understand her family was different. She and her six siblings didn’t go to school. They had dangerous jobs at a very young age in their father’s junkyard business. They didn’t have birth certificates, get immunizations or go to the doctor.
This is her tragic, yet triumphant, story of self-teaching her way to Brigham Young, finding her voice at Cambridge and ultimately receiving a PhD from Harvard. The author doesn’t mince words with her descriptions or try to protect or defend the way she was raised. That said, she tells the story with a gentleness I wouldn’t expect of such a harsh story.
And don’t overlook the details of the beautiful cover art.