Author Tara Westover
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: February 20th, 2018
Length: 352 pages
I was not familiar with Educated by Tara Westover until I saw a coworker reading the book. I asked him what the memoir was about and he explained that it was about a young woman that was isolated from society and had never been educated. She decided to educate herself enough to pass the ACT and attend college at age 17. She eventually received a PhD in history from Cambridge. Intrigued, I decided to check the book out from the library. I was picturing a story similar to the “living off the grid” shows on TV. This was similar to that, but with a father that most likely had bipolar, was not taking medication and made poor decisions that nearly cost his children their life several times. The children were not allowed to be homeschooled by the mother or receive any medical care from doctors.
Westover was born and raised in Idaho in a home that overlooked Buck’s Peak. Her mother is a midwife/herbalist and eventually became the main provider of the family. Interestingly enough, her father is very strict in traditional roles. Women are not supposed to work outside the home or receive any form of education. The couple was not raised in this strict traditional way. Both of their sets of parents allowed them to attend school and work. The father chose this life as a way to not answer to society, specifically the government. Westover did not have a birth certificate until she was 9. She does not know the day she was born, only that the year is 1986. The couple have 7 children and all helped the father in his junkyard. When not assisting their father, they assisted the mom in the home.
Westover writes a beautiful memoir where she leaves the “off the grid” lifestyle in favor of being a member of society. I listened to an interview with Westover hosted by Oprah Winfrey. She describes the book as “liberating” and I have to agree. Westover chose her own life and escaped the abuse from her past. Her older brother, named Tyler in the book, helped her escape by encouraging her to attend college. He told her all she had to do was learn enough from textbooks to receive a 27 on the ACT. After receiving a high enough score on the ACT, Westover attended Brigham Young University. She asked her college history class what the Holocaust was. Her professor thought she was trying to make a cruel joke, but she truly did not know. She was also not aware of the Civil Rights Movement. College was a struggle in the beginning not only academically, but socially as well. Several years went by until Westover was fully acclimated socially and she eventually had a steady boyfriend. She keeps in contact with three of her siblings and is estranged from the rest of her family, including her parents. Her parents believe she is a danger to the family and that she is possessed by a demon. When Westover was attending Harvard for her PhD, her parents visited. Her father attempted to do an exorcism on Westover. She writes, “I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind. This was the price I was being asked to pay, I understood that now. What my father wanted to cast from me wasn’t a demon: it was me,” (Westover, p. 304).
Note: Educated has caused controversy among readers. Many reviewers are saying that the “off the grid” lifestyle is not unusual and are taking offense. I don’t typically read reviews of a book until after I am done reading so other’s opinions will not be a reflection of my own. The author, Tara Westover, is not, in my personal opinion, criticizing the “off the grid lifestyle.” She is speaking of her own experience in dealing with feelings of isolation in an abusive family. I don’t believe her experience would have been negative if not for the abuse and the lack of homeschooling/public education.
Purchase the book here.
From the author’s website:
Tara Westover is an American author. Born in Idaho to a father opposed to public education, she never attended school. She spent her days working in her father’s junkyard or stewing herbs for her mother, a self-taught herbalist and midwife. Taught to read by an older brother, her education was erratic and incomplete. She was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. After that first encounter with education, she pursued learning for a decade, graduating magna cum laude from Brigham Young University in 2008 and subsequently winning a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned an MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge in 2009, and in 2010 was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She returned to Cambridge, where she was awarded a PhD in history in 2014.
Named Book of the Year by the American Booksellers Association
Winner of the 2018 Goodreads Choice Award for Memoir
Finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Award
Long listed for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
Finalist for the Leonard Award from the National Book Critics Circle Award
Finalist for the Autobiography Award from the National Book Critics Circle Award
Winner of the Audie Award for Autobiography/Memoir
Winner of the Audi Award for Best Female Narrator (because Julie is fab)
Alex Award by the American Library Association
Finalist for the LA Times Book Prize
One of New York Times’s 10 Best Books of 2018
Amazon Editors’ #1 pick for the Best Book of 2018
Indigo #1 Pick for Best Book of 2018
#1 LibraryReads pick by American Librarians
Audible’s Best Memoir of the Year
Apple’s Best Memoir of the Year
Hudson Group Best Book of the Year
President Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of the Year list
Bill Gates’s Holiday Reading List
Additional readings/interviews on Tara Westover:
Interview with Ellen DeGeneres
Interview with Bill Gates
National Public Radio Interview
Vanity Fair Interview
Interview with Oprah Winfrey