I am not going to get into too many of the fascinating and at times jaw-dropping details of Tara Westover’s life here, because she has written about it beautifully in her memoir Educated, but I will say this: GO READ THIS BOOK. It will change the way you look at religion and resilience and redemption. I’m not even close to exaggerating. This book is perspective shifting.
Westover is the youngest of seven children raised by Mormon survivalists in the hills of Idaho. Her father runs a junkyard and her mother is an unlicensed midwife. The family struggles with poverty and domestic violence (of which Westover is a victim) and refuses to have anything to do with western medicine, formal education or the government.
Westover attends ballet class in “jeans … and steel-toed boots” while the other girls wear “white tights and tiny ballet shoes the color of taffy.” She doesn’t even have a birth certificate until the age of nine. “I remember the day it came in the mail. It felt oddly dispossessing, being handed this first legal proof of my personhood: until that moment, it had never occurred to me that proof was required.” Her childhood is marked by grisly accidents, dysfunctional nurturing practices and troubling, paranoid rants.
But she gradually makes her way out of all of it. She teaches herself to take the ACT, gains acceptance as a freshman to Brigham Young University and sets foot in a proper classroom for the first time at age 17. There she is shocked to learn that Europe is more than one country and that the Holocaust happened at all. She goes on to earn a fellowship at Cambridge and a doctorate at Harvard.
However, the divorce from her upbringing is slow and painful; and therein lies the essence of this story. “I might have resented my upbringing but I didn’t. My loyalty to my father had increased in proportion to the miles between us.” Educated is, at its core, about overcoming obstacles and outgrowing your roots while remaining fiercely loyal to your family.
Many thanks to those of you who read and discussed this unforgettable book with me for Book Club: Lauren, Kelly, Jen, Heather, Ali, Wendy and Megan. For the rest of the year, when someone asks me for a book recommendation, I will say: GO READ EDUCATED.
Best paired with home-canned peaches stockpiled for the End of Days.