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Review: Tara Westover's "Educated"

Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, is the next book that everyone will be talking about – that is, unless they’re already talking about it. The memoir covers the trajectory of Westover’s own story, beginning with her undocumented birth and concluding with her PhD-educated, current life. Westover explores the fear with which her parents regarded the government, the beauty of the Idaho countryside, the importance of religion in her early years and its complex influence on her older self, the horrors of living with family members who suffered from undiagnosed and untreated mental illness, and eventually, how she leaves all of that behind to pursue an education. As someone from a close family that places great importance on education, I took a special interest in Westover’s decision to reject her father’s orders and leave home, having not even attended high school, in order to attend college. Ultimately I found myself incredibly drawn to Westover’s struggle against nearly insurmountable odds to pursue something I often take for granted.

Now, for those who shy away from memoirs, fear not. Westover’s memoir is so crazythat it reads like fiction. She and her siblings survive countless, unimaginable accidents, including major car-crashes, legs set on fire, and being speared by construction equipment. It all seems too horrible to be true. But it is true, and Westover writes with an easy-to-follow, arresting style, which is one of the elements I admired most about her work. Westover takes a matter-of-fact approach to her story, not seeming to write for any audience in particular. She conveys the good, the bad, the sane, and the insane aspects of her life in a factual manner that makes her story accessible. Her unassuming style also allows the reader to transition through her entire life without pausing for any jarring event or turn of phrase.

Besides Westover’s pursuit of an education, two aspects of this memoir kept me highly engaged. The first was Westover’s family. There are so many personalities in her immediate circle. Among other characters, the reader meets: Westover’s father, a devout Mormon who rules over his family and their land with terrifying power; Westover’s mother, a woman who shrinks beside her husband but who gains strength as she gains vocational confidence; her brother Tyler, the misfit of the family who shows Westover the possibilities that extend beyond their home; and Shawn, a second brother, who loves Westover one minute and beats her up the next to prove his strength.

Throughout her childhood, Westover also grapples with what it means to be a girl, including the realization that, if she puts on makeup, her male family members will accuse her of being a whore. The reader must endure the emotional abuse Westover experiences, but it’s impossible not to appreciate the grit that Westover develops after being verbally and physically abused a few too many times. Westover’s ascent from “one of the boys” to the inspiring woman who wrote this memoir is one worth reading and admiring.

Through this entire read, I laughed, cringed, and hoped. Westover brings school, family, religion and daily tasks to life in a unique and stunning way that, in turn, makes her memoir an utter must-read. I recommend borrowing the hard-back copy from the library (or buying it if you are so inclined). The pages feel just right, and the story is definitely compelling.

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