Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover

What’s the story – From Goodreads: “Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.”

Review:  I am very excited to be reviewing Educated as my first review with Sip, Read, Love.  I kept hearing about how wonderful this book was, but hesitated to read it myself for fear that it would trigger me as a cult survivor.  It did trigger me, but in wonderful and validating ways.  As I read Tara’s accounts of a child being groomed to believe her parent’s fear filled delusions, I had flashbacks of my own parents warning that we needed to be “ever vigilant” for Armageddon.  As Tara’s father stock piled food and supplies for “the reckoning”, I remembered my own mother stock piling food for the last days.  It is so hard to explain what it is like to live in a family whose belief systems are so different than those of “worldy” families, but Tara does it with grace and excellence.  Tara’s writing was flawless, making it easy to understand growing up in this world of chaos and fear.

The parts that resonated with me the deepest were Tara’s struggles after taking a stand against the beliefs of her parents.  She speaks about her need to validate her truth, by getting assurance from those around her that the events of her past had really happened.  As a cult survivor myself, I deeply resonated with this desperate plea for reality.  I understand at my core what it is like to have no belief system, no tradition, and no immediate family support.  I have always struggled to explain this feeling of not belonging, or struggling to find an existence, to friends and romantic partners, but Tara does it so clearly that it is easy for anyone to picturing walking in her shoes.

Certain sentences hit me like a ton of bricks…  Tara writes “What my father wanted to cast from me wasn’t a demon, it was me.” and “I could have my mother’s love, but there were terms.”  Upon reading those lines I wanted to jump up and shout YES!  These are thoughts that have crossed my mind for a decade, since leaving my parent’s religious cult.  She illuminates this “sophie’s choice” that cult survivors have with their families and all that they know on one side, and their authentic selves on the other side.  Lastly, I felt Tara’s struggle as she chose whether to “pretend” to believe what her family believed in order to get them back, and her description of how easy it would be to “yield” to them, but how soul crushing that sacrifice would feel.

For me, this book was everything.  I was enthralled with her writing from the very first page.  Tara is brave, strong, and so intelligent.  Her story is one that can help anyone who reads it to live a more authentic life.  It is a must read.

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One Reply to “Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover”

  1. This definitely sounds like a good read. The fact that you can relate to it in so many different ways makes it even more interesting to the person wanting to read this story.

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