Updated: Oct 10, 2019
Educated - A Memoir
Author: Tara Westover
Review by Kim Cheel
Educated, a memoir by Tara Westover is all over the charts right now, and it's easy to see why. First, the almost embarrassing reason: schadenfreude. We love to read about train wrecks and sip our tea and thank our lucky stars our life wasn't like that. There were moments of surreality when I read the book; how could this be true? But as bad as I may believe my childhood was (and sometimes it wasn't a picnic), Tara's life is almost indescribable.
She is the youngest of several children born to a man who held extremely religious and doomsday views. He would be known as a "Prepper", almost certain what happened to the Weavers (of the Ruby Ridge incident) would happen to him and his family. He pulled his children out of school, refused to take severely injured children (and his wife) to the hospital, and didn't allow the children to have birth certificates. He worked as a junker, hauling scrap and every single child worked beside him at some point in their lives, some with more damaging results than others.
Even though Tara went to college (Brigham Young University, for which she studied more diligently than I could even imagine), she was still (for the first few years), heavily invested in the lifestyle her father built around her. Her extreme Mormon views meant that she called other Mormons "gentiles" if they wore too tight of clothes, or went shopping on a Sunday. She had to be told to wash her hands with soap after using the washroom. Even as she went ahead to Cambridge, and pursued a PhD, she was still drawn back to the family drama that encapsulated her. She was accused of lying about abuse her brother had perpetrated to her and her older sister. Relatives were told she had demonic possession. Relationships were irrevocably changed.
I just . . . can't imagine. While your head is spinning trying to process that all this is real and not exaggerated for print, you wonder what she kept going back. Why, with all her education, she wouldn't just leave them all behind and she moved forward. Why she kept going back, thought there could be change. But we manage our families differently. While one family may stay in the same town for generations, never wanting to be far from each other, other families scatter to the wind, going years without contact. We have no say in families. We're born there, and like it or not, they're raising us with their ideals, their expectations. Tara, to a reader, may seemed to have exceeded expectations. How can a girl raised without formal education, without necessarily learning to read, learning maths get a PhD in Cambridge?To her father, and some of her other family members, that's a disappointment. His expectation for her was to stay in the same area. Get married, have children and continue the cycle.
At first glance, the title "Educated" may seem to be about her breaking into the intellectual world, but it seems more about oneself, and more specifically Tara coming to terms with family, and expectations, and realizations.
Postscript: After getting into some forums about this book, some very real questions have emerged about the legitimacy of some of her claims. I think after the fallout of A Million Little Pieces, people are more cynical about such blatantly awful events. Some issues: her father claimed to hate the government, yet his wife and he run a very successful essential oil business, and they have a website, and some YouTube videos. Her brother Tyler has spoken out saying that while he wants to support Tara and doesn't want to take away her memories, some things just aren't as described in the book though I do believe Tara was clear in her writing that she struggled with linear memory, etc. Other people have mentioned her privilege in how many people came to her aid (a Bishop paying for classes, a Professor taking such a keen interest). I don't think we need to take away her accomplishments, but we do need to examine how we gauge those accomplishments, and how many of these extremely popular memoirs (such as The Glass Castle) seem to come from a very specific demographic.