BOOK REVIEW: Educated by Tara Westover

“The thing about having a mental breakdown is that no matter how obvious it is that you’re having one, it is somehow not obvious to you. I’m fine, you think. So what if I watched TV for 24 straight hours yesterday. I’m not falling apart. I’m just lazy. Why it’s better to think yourself lazy than think yourself in distress, I’m not sure.”
— Tara Westover, Educated

Nothing excites me more than seeing and reading all of the incredible memoirs that have come out in recent years. I’ve always loved non-fiction, and reading stories about real people’s lives and experiences is so inspiring and interesting. Like thousands of other people, I was opened up to memoirs by Jeannette Walls’ book The Glass Castle about her unconventional upbringing and how it shaped the rest of her life. Educated follows a similar vein -- it’s about a woman who was raised by survivalists in Idaho who wouldn’t allow her to attend school. Now a successful writer and a historian with a Ph.D. from Cambridge, Tara Westover has a truly amazing story to tell, but it’s not one for the light of heart .

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Born to devout Mormon parents, Tara Westover grew up believing the world could end at any moment. She slept with a survival backpack as a pillow, and was never allowed to attend school because her father believed it would corrupt her. After 17 years of enduring torment from an older brother and silently suffering from illness and injuries because she wasn’t allowed to see a doctor, Westover enrolled at Brigham Young University and, for the first time in her life, began her education.

Learning for the first time about events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement, Westover is opened up to a world she wasn’t aware existed, and finally exposed to the extent to which her parents had deprived her of knowledge. Educated, while inspiring and motivational, is profoundly sad. It’s hard to reconcile Tara’s troubled upbringing with the love she still has for her parents. My heart broke each time she returned home to her family’s house in Idaho and had to reintegrate herself into a setting that was unkind and at times unwelcoming.

Westover’s story is unflinching in its portrayal of abuse and mental illness, and she doesn’t shy away from the darkest details of her life. Her emotions, which range from excitement to humiliation to fear, are palpable through her writing. Educated’s ending, while beautifully written, doesn’t offer much in terms of consolation. In many ways Westover has succeeded. She has earned a doctorate from one of the world’s most prestigious schools and has forged important relationships, but her familial struggle hasn’t ended, and it doesn’t seem like it will anytime soon.

Educated shows that life doesn’t always have simple, clean endings. Some things may fall into place while others fall out. When you overcome an obstacle it is likely that another will be waiting in front of you. Westover’s life story is about sacrifice, courage, bravery, and honesty, but it’s also about acceptance.