Educated is the story of what happens when you have nothing to rely on but yourself, a book, and some very willing loved ones to get you out of a tough situation.
Tara Westover was raised in a strict Mormon household in the mountains of Idaho. In addition to being conservative, traditional parents, Tara’s parents were also survivalists. Tara, along with her six other siblings, was homeschooled for the majority of her life, worked either in the junkyard with their father or in the kitchen putting together homeopathic remedies with her mother, and was always prepared for the second-coming.
At 17, Tara was convinced by her older brother, Tyler, to leave home and go to college. After hiding years of emotional and physical abuse, experiencing the trauma of growing up with a bipolar father, and being sheltered from seeing traditional doctors, Tara was about to learn about the Holocaust, the Civil War, and so much more during her years at Brigham Young Univerity.
“Then, I went straight to the computer lab to look up the word ‘Holocaust.’ I don’t know how long I sat there reading about it, but at some point, I’d read enough. I leaned back and stared at the ceiling. I suppose I was in shock, but whether it was the shock of learning about something horrific, or the shock of learning about my own ignorance, I’m not sure.”
Tara went on to attend Harvard University and Cambridge University, but through her education, she separated herself from her family more than she ever thought possible. When family is all you’ve got, what happens when that relationship is irreversibly changed?
“It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you.”
It’s not often that I pick up a book where I read the notes and acknowledgments, but I read every single word that Tara had to write. Her prose is moving. Her word choice is impactful. And her story, every inch of it, is inspiring.
As a woman who has been in school since she was three and able to make her own choices since she was 18, you’d think I wouldn’t be able to relate to anything in Tara’s story, but I did. Her loyalty to her family is deeply ingrained in her personality, her disappointment in herself for doing nothing but her best but still feeling like it’s not enough, and her determination to rely solely on her own being are all things I related to deeply.
I admire Tara’s willingness to be brutally honest and open in this memoir. She didn’t sugarcoat her twisted relationship with her abusive brother, she didn’t shy away from the misremembering that might have happened while writing this book, and she didn’t hide the fact that she had people who did help her on her journey. Tara did a lot of things on her own, and there’s no doubt that she’s built the life she has for herself, but she is generous enough in her memoir to really call out the brothers that helped her, the teachers that pushed her, and the friends that supported her all along the way.
“You are not fool’s gold, shining only under a particular light. Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were. It was always in you. Not in Cambridge. In you. You are gold. And returning to BYU, or even to that mountain you came from, will not change who you are. It may change how others see you, it may even change how you see yourself—even gold appears dull in some lighting—but that is the illusion. And it always was.”
Educated is nothing short of amazing. From Tara’s troubling upbringing to her internal struggles as an adult between self and family, everyone can garner some connection and understanding from this book.
“The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones she would have made. They were the choices of a changed person, a new self. You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education”