educated review

[REVIEW] Educated, a memoir

Everybody who loves books has been raving about Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated. Since I’m on a non-fiction kick this year, I immediately added it to my wish list. It did not disappoint. I still say you can’t beat real life. This is one of those stories that you literally couldn’t make up if you tried. It has everything a good book needs – twists and turns and complications and triumphs. I couldn’t stop listening and I’ve heard the same from others!  It was also not what I expected, not by a long shot.


I have so many thoughts about this book and I will try to approach them systematically but they also took twists and turns along the way.


This family desires to be self-sufficient and live off the land. The father is an entrepreneur and employs many of the siblings. The mother is a midwife who also uses herbal medicine. They hold tight to their religious beliefs. At first glance, they aren’t so different from me and my family. But there’s also a difference. They cling so tightly to their culture and beliefs that they are close-minded to anything else. They are extreme. But it makes me wonder, do people think that my choices are extreme? And, if so, will that change my beliefs? Probably not. Maybe we aren’t so different after all.


The mother is primarily responsible for the education of the 7 children and ultimately fails at doing so. Although, all of the siblings certainly get plenty of life experience. With zero formal education, the author solely prepares for and scores a 28 on the ACT exam. She goes on to attend Cambridge and Havard where she receives a Ph.D. Her parents attribute her success to her foundation of home education. In this way, we are also similar. I do firmly believe that education is best achieved through intrinsic motivation. When a student is ready and determined they will learn in a way that sticks and stays with them for life. We are an unschooling family by choice. While I do provide ample resources and opportunities for learning, it’s likely that others will also find this approach to be just as extreme as the author’s upbringing.


There are some difficult and strained relationships in the book. There are moments when her father seems genuinely loving and caring for his children and others where he seems totally clueless or hell-bent on being as destructive as possible. It was obvious that her mother cared deeply for both her husband and her children. Her true colors and adaptability showed through on multiple occasions but it was also apparent that she was loyal to a fault to her husband. Family loyalty is a theme that runs through the entire story. Any by family loyalty I mean, doing what dad wants. Sibling relationships in general are tricky business and this family is no exception. There is one relationship in particular that goes beyond sibling rivalry into flat-out emotional and some physical abuse. Which leads me to my next point.


Many reviewers are focused on the fact that a young woman with no education went on to achieve Ph.D. status. I dare say this book isn’t really about education at all. Not truly. Not fully. It is a LOT about the mental anguish she endured and how that affected her in her adult life. It’s amazing that she was able to escape from that because, all too often, it’s a vicious cycle that keeps an individual from ever rising above it. Granted, higher learning was her avenue to a new life, but the reader will quickly see how that mental abuse continues to plague her even when she is away from it. Words are so incredibly powerful and can linger sometimes indefinitely. She seems constantly torn between desiring a relationship with her family but trying to escape the turmoil and oppression they create.


Honestly, I don’t quite feel like this story has ended. I’d love to be able to continue to follow her experience. I admittedly have Googled Tara Westover, all of her siblings, and her parents trying to find an update. My hope is that she continues to have peace with her decision to be estranged from her family. Ultimately, I wish her family could have peace with who she is as a person but sometimes, I suppose, separation may cause the least amount of harm for all parties involved. Regardless, Educated is definitely in my top 3 so far for 2018 and I’d highly recommend it. I tried not to give away too much of the actual storyline so that you can be just as surprised as I was.

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P.S. If anyone can tell me how she afforded all those trans-Atlantic flights while in school, I can put that unsettled question to rest in my mind. 


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