Rating: 4 / 5
Tara Westover’s Educated is the bewildering and shockingly true story of a woman’s life growing up as an off-the-grid survivalist Mormon and how she escaped her toxic and, at times, dangerous family.
In rural Idaho, the Westover family is preparing for the end of the world. Tara’s father is convinced that it is coming, and that it is coming soon. They spend their days and money preparing for the fall of civilization, at which point they will be the only family able to survive. They are Mormons, but not like other Mormons. Their convictions are radical – no doctors and no modern medicine; stay off the grid – the Government is rife with sin; no milk; no soda; certainly no skin showing on a woman other than her head, hands, and ankles.
Tara has never set foot in a public school. She’s never been to the doctor. She doesn’t have a birth certificate, and her parents can’t remember her exact birth date. She spends her days canning foods for the End of Days and working at her father’s junk yard salvaging metal to be sold.
As Tara grows, she begins to question her father’s radical ideologies. He is an erratic man who has put her and the rest of her family in danger often, but she has a deeply ingrained loyalty to him and the rest of the family that she can’t seem to break. No matter how far she travels away from home or how much she learns that contradicts her father’s teachings, Tara always feels the inevitable, dangerous, pull of her family.
Please take caution while reading Educated if any of the following topics may trigger you:
- Animal cruelty
- Death / dying
- Pregnancy / childbirth
- Mental illness
- Racism / racial slurs
- Sexism / misogyny
- Hateful language directed at religious groups
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Educated. It is utterly fascinating, quite captivating, and elicits a range of emotions very effectively. The writing was descriptive and biased to the period of time Westover was writing about, which I loved. If the story took place when she was eleven, she wrote as she thought about her family and her circumstances at eleven. Her beliefs and understanding of her family began to evolve through each story and as she matured.
Every story that Westover shared was captivating, some more so than others. The stories that I know will stay with me the longest are those that pissed me off – because her father was being reckless and endangering his children, because her mother was complacent in obvious abuse and manipulation. It’s uncommon for a book to be enjoyable and to infuriate you at the same time, but Educated has done just that!
I did think that the beginning was a bit slow, but this may be based on my pre-conceived expectations of the memoir. I thought it took a while to get to the juicy stuff. Further, I found some of the final stories to err on the side of pretension. I wonder if this wasn’t on purpose, as this may have been how Westover felt during those periods in her life. Nonetheless, that somewhat took away the effects that the stories could have had for me.
All in all, I seriously enjoyed Educated and thought it was morbidly fascinating. I highly recommend this to lovers of cult/survivalist fiction – think My Absolute Darling but without the sexual abuse; it can read like fiction at times because the stories are so shocking. If I were you, I wouldn’t pass on this one.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on Educated. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the memoir in the comment or at my Instagram, @bookmarkedbya.