Educated by Tara Westover – Book Review
Educated by Tara Westover is a memoir that is both inspirational and shocking. An emotional rollercoaster, I felt like I was growing right alongside Tara as she discovered herself and came to terms with the current and past abuse from her family. An amazing retelling of her past and one of the top books published in 2018.
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Educated by Tara Westover
Published by: Harper Collins
Publication Date: February 20th, 2018
Genre: Autobiography, Memoir
“For readers of North of Normal and Wild, a stunning new memoir about family, loss and the struggle for a better future
Tara Westover was seventeen when she first set foot in a classroom. Instead of traditional lessons, she grew up learning how to stew herbs into medicine, scavenging in the family scrap yard and helping her family prepare for the apocalypse. She had no birth certificate and no medical records and had never been enrolled in school.
Westover’s mother proved a marvel at concocting folk remedies for many ailments. As Tara developed her own coping mechanisms, little by little, she started to realize that what her family was offering didn’t have to be her only education. Her first day of university was her first day in school—ever—and she would eventually win an esteemed fellowship from Cambridge and graduate with a Ph.D. in intellectual history and political thought.”
Synopsis retrieved from Goodreads
MY THOUGHTS ON EDUCATED BY TARA WESTOVER
Educated by Tara Westover is a memoir that describes a coming-of-age story of a young girl who grew up in a fundamentalist, Mormon, family. It’s a story of hardship, growth, and triumph. Tara experiences conflict, abuse, and finally discovers a world outside of it.
Wonderfully written, Tara Westover’s writing style is that of a narrative and story-teller. It is descriptive and captivating, which causes the reader to lose themselves in her unique life story.
There were moments I couldn’t relate to, however, there were plenty of instances that anybody could share in her shoes.
Mormonism and Fundamentalists
Tara Westover was born to a Fundamentalist Mormon family in Idaho in 1986.
Fundamentalism is defined as:
“A religious movement characterized by a strict belief in the literal interpretation of religious texts, especially of American Protestantism and Islam.”
She was isolated from growing up the way most Mormon children did. Her father rejected any sort of government system – eg. registering her birth, public school system, and the medical establishment. So she grew up without an education and Western medicine.
As Fundamentalists, her family followed the writings in the Bible literally. They were survivalists preparing for the end of the world, stocking up on herbal remedies, canned peaches, gasoline, and ammunition.
This was the context in which our author grew up.
The family dynamics of the Westover family is that of a traditional hierarchical family model in which the father is the head of the household. He runs a junkyard where his 7 children help with the tasks. Tara’s mother prepares herbal medicines and works as a midwife. Life in the Westover family was managed by her father.
Acting as “God’s supervisor”, he ensured his family wasn’t straying from what he interpreted as right and wrong. His concern that each member of the family was doing God’s bidding. However, at times his determination to follow the Bible exactly edged on fanatical. We would later learn that he was probably bipolar or schizophrenic.
Tara’s mother submitted to her husband’s wishes and lived her life according to his wishes. At times we get a glimpse of her own opinions. However, usually, she sets them aside for the sake of her marriage.
Tara also introduces us to her 6 siblings. We interestingly learn that half of them followed the same path as Tara, and the other three continued to live like her father. It’s evident how strong family values are within their family dynamics.
A recurring theme throughout the book is domestic abuse, and it was probably one of the hardest parts to read. Through her memoir, Tara recounts the abuse she endured from her parents and some of her siblings.
She is physically and mentally abused from her teenage years onward by her brother Shawn. Naturally giving into the criticism of the men in her life, Tara wasn’t aware that she was being abused until a bishop explained it to her. She had been led to believe she was dressing and acting like a “whore” when in actuality she had just hit puberty. He would physically abuse her if she retaliated against his lectures, apologize soon afterward and the cycle continued into her adult life.
Her father’s choices to isolate his children, his carelessness that resulted in multiple life-threatening injuries to himself and his family, and his strict moral standards could also be considered as abusive. Not to mention his mental state which would have exacerbated it.
Tara would eventually come to realize what actually happened when she was a child. This realization would have negative consequences for her relationship with her family as they eventually estranged her.
Mental illness plays a huge roll in Educated. We learn and witness her father’s bipolar and schizophrenic outbursts, Tara’s mental breakdown likely caused by PTSD, and her battle with imposter syndrome.
Tara’s father’s paranoia towards the government establishment, his careless behavior, and argumentative outbursts are evidence of a mood disorder. It’s unclear what he has because he’s never diagnosed but we can assume his actions and thinking are a result of it.
Through the telling of her memoir, we step into her shoes and experience this, which at times is disturbing. After leaving the family home to pursue an education, Tara feels out of place. She has a sense that she doesn’t belong and doesn’t deserve the opportunities that are presented to her. As an outsider, we root for her and are inspired by the success she has. However, dealing with imposter syndrome Tara Westover couldn’t see that.
One of the most difficult parts of the book is Tara’s mental breakdown while studying for her Ph.D. at Cambridge. The weight of her upbringing, trauma, abuse and the choices she had to make for herself became too much.
The Cost of Our Choices
If there’s one thing I took away from the entire narrative of her memoir it’s that you can’t choose where you come from but you can choose what to do with it.
Tara left Idaho embarrassed about her origins and afraid to fit in with her new surroundings. She didn’t exactly belong anywhere for a while as she transitioned and adapted. Eventually, she completes her B.A., Masters and Ph.D., came to terms with her past and excited about her future. She took her experience growing up in a Fundamentalist Mormon family in Idaho and used it to fuel her research and growth as a person.
Tara chose her education (the discovery of her own person) over her family. At no fault to herself, her father would not accept the choices she made and chose to alienate his daughter.
As I was reading the memoir I thought I was going to rate it a 4. However, I became increasingly invested in Tara’s coming-of-age story, giving it a 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.
If you enjoyed Wild or Angela’s Ashes, and enjoy narratives of misery and triumph, I recommend reading Educated by Tara Westover.
If you read the memoir I want to know your thoughts! Were you horrified by Shawn’s abusive behavior? Were you rooting for Tara as she came of her own? Share in the comments section below!
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