Educated is a gut-wrenching coming-of-age memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castle. As the seventh child of Mormon survivalist parents in rural Idaho, Tara Westover recounts her childhood that at times is poignant, but more often brutal, isolating and painfully unforgiving.
In the Westover family, Tara’s father forces his mistrust of hospitals, the U.S government and schools on the family. Tara doesn’t actually enter a classroom until the age of 17. Her acceptance into university is made more difficult given she’s never had a birth certificate or the benefit of homeschooling.
For most of her childhood, Tara works at the family junkyard business in Buck Peak. When she isn’t toiling amid acres of old cars, scrap metal and buried gas reservoirs – she helps her family prepare for the end of the world. For her father, the end of days is inevitable. To this end, Tara helps her mother stockpile food, and always sleeps with her ‘head-for-the-hills’ bag. But it’s not only the lack of education or the grueling work schedule that demonstrate the depth of parental neglect. Too often the children are put in dangerous situations, and sometimes deliberately in harm’s ways. Then when Tara and her siblings befall horrific work accidents – doctors and medicine are ignored for her mother’s home remedies. No matter how hard Tara tries to voice her concerns or her needs, she is reminded of the family rules – God’s word above all; her father’s word above all else.
But it is the physical and mental abuse she endures at the hand of her violent brother Shawn that finally forces her to speak out for change. Yet Tara is betrayed by her own mother and sister – the women she’s hoping to protect. Finally she breaks from family to pursue a higher education, and ultimately earns a PhD at Cambridge University. Part of leaving home has granted Tara a voice she never knew she had.
“My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, empathetic, and absolute. It never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”
Yet Tara’s voice in family matters leaves her ostracized. Unless she retracts her lies about her brother’s violence – she remains cast out. Torn by her sense of duty and a fierce loyalty to family versus the belief in her own story, Tara Westover must now face the heartbreaking consequences of being ‘educated.’