Continuing my streak of reading books well after everyone else, I recently picked up Tara Westover’s Educated. I’d heard so many wonderful things about this book, from multiple trusted reader friends, yet I was hesitant. Sometimes when a book, movie, or song, is highly popularized I find it hard to share in the collective enthusiasm.
Educated is a memoir about a young girl raised by Mormon fundamentalists in the mountains of Idaho. The family lives almost entirely off-the-grid. The children are homeschooled by their midwife mother, who turns to naturopathic and spiritual medicines in response to her husband’s mistrust of hospitals. Most of the kids in the family don’t have birth certificates, or even know their exact birthdays. They work in their father’s junkyard, kept next to the house, and rarely venture much farther than their grandma’s house down the road. Educated tells the story of how Tara Westover survived a childhood marked by extreme religious belief, mental health, and abuse.
The content of this book is not easy to read, and may be triggering for survivor’s of abuse. Westover recounts situations that are outright shocking. It’s a miracle she and her siblings survived their childhoods. In their father’s junkyard the children operated machinery no child should be anywhere near. Their father’s mistrust of hospitals prevented them from getting proper medical attention, even in emergency situations. One of the siblings became violently abusive, and the sections of the book which recount that dynamic in the family are incredibly upsetting. Despite the difficult content Educated is, above all, hopeful. What Westover overcomes and then achieves in her life is absolutely inspirational.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of this memoir was her commitment to truth telling. Recognizing that memory is subjective and fluid – that facts can change into fictionalized details over time – Westover was careful to denote when her recollection of an event differed from how her siblings remember it. She strives for the purest version of the truth to the very end of the book, and is open about times when she herself questions her memory. Her insistence upon accuracy and transparency made me trust that her version of events is as close to the truth as any person will ever get.
Fans of Jeannette Walls (author of The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses), will likely also enjoy Educated. I’m glad I picked it up, despite my initial reservations. It’s well worth the read.