By Tara Westover
Having grown up in the outskirts of very rural Idaho, Tara Westover had an unusual childhood. She never attended public school. Not highly unusual, considering the number of people who are homeschooled. However, Tara had almost no homeschooling either. She learned to read the Bible, but most other information that came her way was filtered through the lens of her father’s perspective of government conspiracies and preparation for the End of Days. Instead of school, Tara spent her time with her siblings, working in her father’s junkyard and roving the mountains. When one of her older brothers left home to go to college, Tara started to consider the possibility that she, too, might get an education. Through arduous efforts at self-teaching, she managed to pass the ACT and earn a spot as a college freshman. Her experiences at college shattered her limited perspective on the world and introduced her to everything from spaghetti strap shirts to the Holocaust. Through relentless efforts, Tara began to understand the classroom and the larger world around her. She eventually went on to graduate at the top of her class, but at great personal cost: every stride forward in education was a step farther from the family she knew, leaving her stranded and lost in an entirely different way.
“Educated” by Tara Westover is an astounding story of how someone can overcome, accomplish, and grow. Westover writes with candor and unflinching honesty about the situations she encountered as a child (injuries sustained in the junkyard on a regular basis by all members of her family, manipulation and violent abuse from an older brother) and as an adult (difficulty creating and sustaining relationships while trying to hide her background). All this is written from the perspective of someone much older and wiser. As Westover recounts her experiences, she simultaneously analyzes them and puts words to the emotions she felt at the time, but only recently began to understand and pull apart. While the stories she shares about her upbringing seem almost outrageous, the tone of her writing neither conveys nor encourages shock. She is merely telling her story as she remembers it, with footnotes when there are significant discrepancies between her memories and those of other family members. She shares her experience, as it is, for what it is, so that others may understand the privilege and cost of learning.
This book is absolutely riveting. I didn’t want to put it down. I felt a bit voyeuristic at times because her experience is such a far cry from the world and life I am familiar with, but it is incredibly compelling. The tone of her writing is a perfect combination of being both frank and reflective, so that the alarming parts of her youth are tempered by her adult “coming to terms” with it. I was also amazed at what she was able to accomplish, and somewhat jealous of her ability to teach herself algebra. Highly recommended for any and all readers.