“Educated,” a memoir by Tara Westover, is one of the best books I’ve read in the past few years. It was very hard to read. I wept over the situation the author found herself in. Her father had bipolar disorder, unmedicated, paranoid that the government would attack his family. He ran a junkyard and cared less about his children’s safety than the faith he had that God would protect them. He believed hospitals were a way the government controlled people and that medicine was more worry than it was worth causing infertility. He was a Mormon survivalist in Idaho, stockpiling for the Day of Abomination fuel, weapons, cans of food to stay off the grid for ten-plus years.
Her mother was an enabler who rarely stood up to her husband and her powerlessness led her to refusing to protect her children, who were frequently caught in the cross-hairs of some manic eruption or whose life was constantly threatened by the dangerous work the children were all subjected to in the junkyard. She trained as a midwife covertly delivering babies, mixing homeopathy remedies, and eventually creating a lucrative business selling essential oils mixes for all kinds of natural cures.
Shawn, Tara’s older brother is a bully. He has a propensity towards violence against women. Throughout the book he picks on weaker women calling them names like “whore” or racial slurs. His justification is a veil of modesty that he believes they have not adhered to and his religious beliefs demand he punish them for it. When confronted, Shawn reacts with threats and his parents defend him, even against their own daughters. Tara’s sister Audrey has similar experiences to Tara of Shawn’s ruthless attacks and violence, yet she did nothing.
The book is sad, painful and heartbreaking. It conjured up for me bad memories from my past with similar circumstances. This past is still a part of my own healing and journey. I believe Tara’s story of her past, of her coming out of that place, and coming to find herself and having her own boundaries is an inspiration. It is something to celebrate.
I believe everyone should read this book to understand circumstances happening all around us and how those terrible situations are not normal. They should not be ignored.
How does the title come into play? The backdrop of the story is how Tara never went to public school before she enrolled as a freshman at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT. She had to teach herself basic education like math and science. Her parents “homeschooled” her for a few years when they were very young and then each child was left to their own ambition on how much additional education they wanted to learn on their own. Tara had never heard of the Holocaust until it came up in her freshman year at BYU.
There are several times in the book that Tara tries to confront her family, her dad and his paranoid stories of the Illuminati and the government, her brother’s degrading and deplorable violence against her. It makes me so angry that a family could be so cruel and hateful to their own daughter and sister. The saddest part is their ignorance believing that they were doing the right thing for her. They truly believed that she was wrong, not them.
I hope I haven’t given too much away of this amazing book. There is so much here. There is so much to think about and to help shine a light on these issues. There are no easy answers, but hopefully it starts a conversation about child abuse and mental illness. Hopefully it causes people to take a step back in their own lives and past to see old memories in a new light. Hopefully it leads to healing and reconciliation in relationships as people accept responsibility for their actions and look for ways to make amends.