How does someone who grew up with no education end up with a Ph.D. from Cambridge? Tara Westover’s memoir Educated recounts her incredible journey from an isolated life in the mountains of Idaho to a scholar at Harvard and Cambridge. Born to extremely conservative Mormon parents who did not believe in public education (or really any kind of formal education) or in Western medicine, Tara’s family lived in almost complete isolation, stockpiling food and weapons for the certain end of civilization.
Tara’s father was a strict, devout man, prone to paranoia and fits of rage. He operated a junkyard on their property and expected all of his children, including Tara, to work in the family business from a very early age. His disregard for safety often put his family in harm’s way and his refusal to allow medical treatment when needed had lasting effects.
Neither of Tara’s parents saw the need for their children to receive an education, so when Tara decided she wanted to go to college, she had many hurdles to overcome: teaching herself math and science so she could pass the ACT, getting a birth certificate (which she didn’t have) and finding the money to pay for her education. When she finally arrived at college, she was shocked to learn how much she didn’t know about the world and its history. Her thirst for knowledge pushed her further into academia, creating a rift between her and her family, especially her father, who did not approve of her education.
This book has been wildly popular since its release. I admit I did not realize the extent of the story when I started this book. I thought it was just going to be an interesting story about a family who lived off the grid (that’s what happens when you don’t read the entire summary!). I was not prepared for it to include mental illness, violence, and neglect and I did not expect to have so many feelings about this book. This was such a compelling story that just sucks you in from the first page. I felt like I was holding my breath through the entire story.
Westover’s tenacity and bravery in the face of so much adversity makes this one of those exceptional “I can’t believe she survived this” memoirs that only comes around once in a while. Fans of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls will not want to miss this book.