“I had discerned the ways in which we had been sculpted by a tradition given to us by others, a tradition of which we were either willfully or accidentally ignorant. I had begun to understand that we had lent our voices to a discourse whose sole purpose was to dehumanize and brutalize others – because nurturing that discourse was easier, because retaining power always feels like the way forward” – Educated, Tara Westover
Educated , A Memoir by Tara Westover will easily be one of the most sought after books of the summer and one that should absolutely be on your shelf. Trying to find words to describe how touching, gut wrenching, and inspiring this book was is extremely difficult. I felt so many emotions during this story (you know I love those kind of books!) and truly could not believe the words I was reading. If I wouldn’t have known this was a memoir, I would’ve assumed this was an unfortunate yet intriguing fictional story composed of very well-written discourse and a vivid imagination. Unfortunately, what I was reading was not fictional and was the difficult and hurtful story of Tara Westover.
Born in the mountains in Idaho and raised on a very strong Mormon foundation, Tara’s childhood was different than mine and most people I know. Instead of getting first day of school pictures taken and jumping on the school bus each morning, Tara was stock-piling food to prepare for the end of the world. Instead of socializing with other people her age or staying up-to-date on current events, Tara was salvaging her father’s junkyard and stewing herbs for her mother, a self-taught herbalist and midwife. When most people would seek medical attention for injuries or serious illness, Tara nor her family were permitted to step foot in a medical institution. They relied on her mother’s herbs and essential oils to heal gashes large enough to expose bone, fevers high enough to cause permanent damage, car crashes severe enough to lead to significant brain injuries, and third degree burns serious enough to kill.
Tara begged to be allowed to enroll in school like other kids her age, but her survivalist father prohibited his family from any institution that was directly or indirectly tied to the government. Their mother ‘home-schooled’ the kids, which meant that each of them would take a different school book into a different room for an hour and report back how many pages were read. Tara admitted to simply thumbing through the pages, could be up to 100, and reporting back to her mother that her lesson was done for the day. There was never any teaching that occurred and the only things Tara learned were negativity and fear of the outside world that her father inflicted upon them. As Tara got older, the desire to have a formal education grew stronger. She decided to educate herself on everything she needed to know in order to take, and pass, the ACT test. As a 17 year old girl with no formal education and never seeing the inside of a classroom, she taught herself years worth of algebra, history, writing, and grammar. In order to be accepted into Brigham Young University, she needed to get a 27 ACT score. After one failed attempt and hours of studying in between the hard (and dangerous) labor forced upon her by her dad, she tested high enough to be accepted.
It was at BYU that Tara learned of historical events such as the Holocaust and the civil rights movement for the very first time. It was like reading about an alien that was dropped down from outer space; she had no idea how to function in “normal” life nor had any knowledge that there was a world outside of her mountain land in Idaho. From BYU, Tara went on to earn a full scholarship to Cambridge University in the UK where she eventually received her PhD in History.
Are you inspired yet??
Tara Westover is so touching and motivating and I was rooting for her the entire book. There were many parts that were very difficult to read, like stories of serious illness, injuries that went untreated and the abuse Tara endured by her older brother Shawn while her mother listened to Tara’s pleas for help and screams in the next room. Her parents absolutely infuriated me and to be blatant, they were downright ignorant. Her parent’s beliefs went beyond religion, it was cult-like behavior that was manipulative, seductive, and terrifying to read. My heart broke for Tara and her siblings, as I cannot imagine growing up in an environment where you were not permitted to speak or think for yourself. Her father determined how the entire family thought about everything – they had no opinions of their own and if they did, they were forced to believe they were wrong and sinful for thinking so. It was hurtful and frustrating to see the constant inner battle Tara faced throughout the book; she longed for the acceptance of her parents once she moved to college. All she wanted was their love and approval of her and to be proud of the amazing things she had accomplished. Yet, they did not give her that.
Growing up and being raised by a teacher who was so passionate about education, my head could not begin to fathom being withheld from formal education. Education was stressed as the highest priority throughout my entire life and was the foundation that built us as individuals in this world. This book made me reference my college years and the classes, concepts or insights that were difficult for me to grasp even with 18 years of formal education. Reflecting how Tara passed the ACT with a score high enough to earn her a scholarship to college, obtained a full scholarship to Cambridge University, and later earned her PhD there with NO foundation absolutely blew me away!
Tara is a brilliant and inspiring human being who has overcome struggles that I cannot begin to imagine. She could have easily failed and succumbed to her parents’ ways. She could have given up and never found her voice because that was the “easy” route, but she didn’t. The years of manipulation, discouragement, abuse, and silenced voices did not hold her back, but only gave her the fuel and drive she needed to do better and be better; to escape the power-stricken world that confined her to a mountain in Idaho. Educated is a beautiful story of overcoming all odds, standing up to manipulative power, trusting your instincts, and using your misfortune as fuel to create something impactful. A touching and earth-shattering book, we should all thank Tara Westover for providing us this beautiful piece of art.
“My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs” – Educated, Tara Westover