AUTHOR: Tara Westover
RELEASED: February 2018; Random House
GENRE: Non Fiction
KEY INFO: Memoir, Mormonism, rural America, off-the-grid living, education
REPRESENTATION: female author, mental illness
CONTENT NOTICES: emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, trauma, severe mental illnesses, controlling and abusive father, gaslighting from parents and brother
Usually, I like to try and write my own summary of books but to be honest I’ve had a difficult time enough of just trying to formulate my thoughts into something cohesive enough to even write this review. I have never felt so divided on a book before or had such trouble reviewing it!
Educated had almost slipped entirely under my radar. I hadn’t seen too many people talking about it and I never took the time to look at the summary either. It wasn’t until I read What’s Nonfiction?‘s review of Educated that I paid attention to it. Although I’m quite conflicted about how I feel about the book I am really glad that I made the decision to read it in the end.
Part of me absolutely loved Educated and the Anthropologist in me was completely captivated by Tara’s story. The life that Tara lived as a child was almost unrecognizable to me yet heart-wrenchingly believable. She grew up with 6 brothers and sisters on a mountainside in Idaho to religious fundamentalist parents. At first, it doesn’t seem too bad. Her older brothers were allowed to attend school and although their life was definitely different from other children’s it wasn’t anything too alarming. But as her father’s paranoia about the government and the Illuminati begin to completely take hold of his mind things begin to slide very rapidly. The children are pulled out of school and “home-schooled”, and by home-schooled, I mean that they read the Bible. They are expected to work in their father’s junkyard and put in highly, highly dangerous situations which result in serious injuries. Doctors and hospitals are part of the Illuminati so all of the family are treated at home by their mother who uses herbal and energy remedies, even the case of third-degree burns and bodily dismemberment. The girls are expected to wear clothes that cover their entire body, not to make friends with boys, and are barely even let out of the house unsupervised. Nobody in the family really washes or cleans. And Tara is constantly gaslighted and emotionally abused by her older brother, father, and mother.
There were times when Educated was very hard to read, times when it made me so angry that someone was subjected to that kind of treatment, and times when I felt like I just couldn’t continue to witness what had actually happened to the author. But, like watching a car crash, I also couldn’t put the book down. Especially when Tara’s life starts to tear apart when she begins to engage with education and she is finally exposed to an entirely different world. Following in the steps of one of her older brothers, Tyler, she passed the ACT on her second try and secures her place at college. There are many, many awkward recollections of her first foray into college education, such as the time when her peers thought she was mocking the Holocaust because she didn’t know what it was and the pervasive voice of her father echoing in her mind when she sees how her fellow female classmates dress and act. Before long though, it seems as though Tara’s first steps into education are like a duck taking to water. She begins to not only pass but excel in her classes. She receives top grades. She gets into Cambridge University and eventually goes on to complete a PhD. But, this comes at a great cost for Tara as, when Tara is unable to give up her ambition for education, her family turn their back on her, spread lies about her and she even receives murder threats from one of her brothers.
This was the divisive moment for me in the book and it seems that this is a moment shared by many other reviewers and readers of the book. There are many things which aren’t fully described in the book which raise questions in my mind. I would be very reluctant to say that I don’t believe what happened to Tara because I do. Her experiences with her family, the abuse she endured, the trauma that followed her all the way to England are very authentic and there’s no doubt in my mind that she lives through those things. The thing I have trouble with is following her educational story.
Maybe it’s just that many things get left unsaid, but I find it hard to imagine jumping from someone who had never read a textbook in her life to securing a PhD at Cambridge University. There are aspects of her educational experiences that just don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Of course, it could just be that she was a genius the entire time but her gifts were never uncovered until she was granted the right to education but two of her brothers also go on to receive PhD’s as well. I was born and raised in London, England. I’m from a poor part of London, raised in a single parent family and failed school. I managed to achieve a First in my degree in History and Anthropology despite all the obstacles I’ve had to overcome to get there but there was a very traceable journey that lead me to this point? I cannot even begin to fathom a rural American girl who could barely read managing to get in Cambridge University, one of the most elite and prestigious universities in the entire world. Cambridge is pretty much the definition of an ivory tower… and yet, Tara manages to not only become educated but manages to get into such an ivory tower.
Call me bitter, call me jaded, call me jealous, but there is just something about this journey that doesn’t sit quite right with me. I can’t put my finger on it and I can’t really explain it but there’s just something about it that doesn’t settle in my mind.
I really, really enjoyed reading the first 2/3’s of Educated, but like many other reviewers, the last part of the book just wasn’t as strong. The writing was captivating, her story really pulled me in and I just couldn’t put the book down. But past that point, I just couldn’t enjoy the book in the same way. Partly because I was finding it hard to deal with all of the questions floating around in my mind, and partly because the writing just wasn’t as great towards the end of the book. It’s really hard to rate Educated because of this reason and because it is a memoir rather than a work of fiction, but ultimately I decided to rate it 3.5 stars. If I were to rate the first part of the book it definitely would have received a 4 from me but given the answered questions and feeling of dissatisfaction I was left with at the end, I had to bump it down half a star.
Thank you so much to Random House UK for approving me to read and review Educated via Netgalley. This has in no way affected my review.