Yesterday I did two things I’ve never done: (1) I bought a book because it looked so interesting and the library “hold” queue was longer than I could wait. (2) I read until after 4am because I absolutely could NOT put it down and HAD to finish it.
This unbelievably gripping memoir is called Educated, by Tara Westover. When I say “gripping,” I mean wraps-its-literary-fingers-around-your-throat-and-doesn’t-let-go-kind-of-gripping. Take that as a warning.
Warm and fuzzy, it is not.
Some background on the author: Tara Westover was born into a Mormon survivalist family in southern Idaho. She’s the youngest of 7 children. Her father, who probably suffers from bipolar disorder and/or schizophrenia, abhors any and all agencies connected to the government. His family yields to the effects of his ever-growing paranoia. The children don’t go to school, they don’t see doctors, they have no birth certificates (they don’t even know their birthdays,) they have no friends, they’re cut off from most extended family, and they are made to think that preparation for the “End of Days” is top priority. There’s no TV, radio, or phone for years in their home. All they know is their father’s BIZARRE interpretation of life beyond Buck’s Peak, the mountain where they live. Over time, partly due to self-preservation but mostly due to an injury, their mother becomes mentally unhinged as well.
When I first started the book, the story seemed relatively “tame” compared to The Glass Castle, which many readers have used as an example of what to expect. Then I realized that the author was just “easing us in.” The chaos, the turmoil, and the emotional roller coaster her parents inflicted on their children is EXHAUSTING to read. But, I couldn’t stop reading.
We all know family relationships are complicated, but the relationships in this family are at a level most of us (thankfully) will never, ever experience. You’re left shaking your head that parents can so clearly love their children and still make the decisions they did about their physical safety and emotional welfare.
You read already knowing the ending, which is that Tara and two of her older brothers left that life and, with unbelievable tenacity and determination, attended prestigious universities and obtained PhDs. Everything between her birth and the present day is the journey about which she writes. That journey is a devastating one which became more and more difficult. She more she achieved, the more she realized how little she knew. She more she integrated within the university community, the less deserving she felt. Her memoir is only one part of what will probably be a lifelong healing process.
Still, her courage is inspiring. Her future is hopeful. Her story is unforgettable.
To learn more: tarawestover.com
A final caution: Tara suffers years of physical and emotional abuse at the hand of one particular brother. It’s random, always unexpected, and horrific. In one of his rages, he also brutally kills his dog. These are things I really have a tough time reading about, so this is a disclaimer for those who are extra sensitive like myself.
Lastly, as member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), let me emphasize that this is NOT a mainstream Mormon family, nor does the LDS Church sanction or teach behavior exhibited by the Westover parents. The father cloaks his “prophecies” and strange ideas in his religion, which just happens to be Mormon. The author does not vilify the LDS Church nor hold them responsible, which I appreciated.