Educated: Tara Westover Finds Her Place in the World

Tara Westover‘s memoir of growing up in a survivalist, anti-government family in Idaho is a riveting read. In Educated, she gives us a glimpse of life in an isolated world where she never learned about the Holocaust and only heard one version of the Ruby Ridge siege, the one where the government kills innocent citizens because of their beliefs and nontraditional life styles.

Westover writes about being part of a fundamentalist family: possessing a questionable birth date with a certificate issued nine years after she was born; working long and dangerous hours in her father’s scrap yard where horrific injuries were treated with herbs and tinctures created by her mother, who herself suffered from brain damage and migraines after a car accident; and, in the most difficult passages of the book, being physically and mentally abused by an older brother who claimed he was keeping her from becoming a whore.

It is these incidents plus her parents’ unwillingness to admit that they are even happening that lead Westover to finally escape for college. Her brother Tyler who also left encourages her and she miraculously passes the ACT and receives the scholarship she needs. Later, a mentor supports her work at Cambridge, and she eventually earns a PhD in history.

Westover struggles with her identity throughout the book: early family lessons are hard to shake as they live in our deepest consciousness. For Westover, these lessons focused on the work of the devil even amongst religious people. Her father judged everyone in their congregation: Mormons who believed but did not practice those beliefs. He spent money on weapons and fuel that were hidden on their property, ready for the end of days that he was sure was coming. And yet, he did not keep her from leaving and following her own dreams. Even as she came to explore the wider world that challenged her father’s narrow-minded lessons at every turn, Westover also saw that world through his eyes at some points.

Eventually, it is the denial of her brother’s abuse and her parents’ attempts to paint her as delusional that led to Westover’s estrangement from her family. She keeps in touch with a few of her brothers–two of them also went on to earn PhDs. An <a href=””>article from a South Logan, Utah, newspaper</a> leads with the headline that the Westover family suggests the book should be read with a “grain of salt.” The family lawyer who was interviewed for the article, comments that, considering three of seven children earned advanced degrees, that the home schooling seems to have worked just fine.

A fascinating memoir made even more “fun” because the Westovers are all over the internet and Facebook. I was able to easily locate at least two of Tara’s brothers, including the one who abused her. They continue the mountain life that Tara both loved and hated and, if you hadn’t read the book, they would seem like every other family with conservative politics.