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.
Synopsis source: Goodreads
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My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.
Wow. I am writing this review from my couch, red-eyed and sleep-deprived because I stayed up past my bedtime finishing this book last night. Just…wow.
First, let’s get a few things straight. This is a book about survival, but it isn’t a survivalist book. This is not a modern-day Hatchet. Her survival isn’t about surviving in the wild and against the elements, it’s about surviving her family. Her parents aren’t what I would call homesteader survivalists so much as Doomsday preppers, and this provides a setting more than the focus of the story.
The title of the book is Educated, and while education is definitely a central element to the story, the story isn’t even about that. It’s about abuse in its many and varied forms, from neglect and endangerment to emotional and mental abuse to outright physical, life-threatening abuse, and everything in between. It’s about (trigger warning) mental illness and the effects it has not just on the one suffering the illness but on those around them. It’s about breaking the cycle and seeing things for the way they are, discovering the truth about the world and yourself FOR yourself. It’s about not allowing others to tell you who you are, to define your worth, but to determine those things for yourself.
Positive liberty is self-mastery–the rule of the self, by the self. To have positive liberty, he explained, is to take control of one’s own mind; to be liberated from irrational fears and beliefs, from addictions, superstitions and all other forms of self-coercion.
I have so many notes and highlights in this book (48 highlights in fact!), and so many of my notes are basically just exclamations of disbelief at the things Tara and her family endured as a result of catering to her father’s mental illness and personality disorder (she believes him to be an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic).
While there are definitely some holes in her story and things I would have liked further details on, I think that the author did a wonderful job illustrating the complex relationships she has with her parents and her brother Shawn, painting a picture of the cycle of abuse and the psychology of both the abuser(s) and the victim(s). She especially shows how mixed up a victim can be about their abuser, loving them in spite of the abuse, justifying that abuse, or internalizing it, leading the reader to understand better why victims of abuse stay.
While the fanaticism of her family is shocking, I had no problems believing the stories because I’ve brushed up against people like this in my life enough to know that, yes, this is definitely within the realm of possibility. One thing is for certain, that in this book so hyper-focused on God, angels, faith, religion, etc, Tara is the true miracle in this story.
You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.
Join the Discussion!
If you’re looking to discuss this book with someone, join Krystal of Eco-Minded Stitches and me on Tuesday, October 26th at 7pm CST on Instagram Stories Live. We will be chatting and getting to know Krystal, working on some projects, sipping some bevies, and talking about all the crazy things from this book. I hope to see you there! Update 10/26/21: In case you missed it, you can catch the replay for our book club discussion on both Instagram and YouTube!
Krystal is the maker and designer behind Eco-Minded Stitches. She uses natural fiber yarns to create items for a sustainable homestead. She and her family reside in Michigan. Krystal and her husband Angelo have been married for 16 years. Krystal is a work-at-home mom to their two girls. It is important for Krystal to share her designs with the community to make the environment a better place for all. She is enjoying the impact she is making within her own home and on the environment.
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