Have you heard of the two-handed pass?!
It’s when you pass a book to somebody and say, “you have to read this book!”
Well, Educated by Tara Westover is one of those books deserving of the two-handed pass. This is a book that will stay with you. It’s the kind of book that will leave an indelible mark inside of you and leave you rooting for a complete stranger.
It’s the kind of book I love to read.
Below is my review of this book, which may contain some spoilers.
To be totally honest, I don’t often read memoirs. But was curious about this book when I saw it keep popping on social media. I bought it and still wasn’t convinced I would like it. The book jacket explains that she didn’t go to school until the age of 17. That her parents were survivalists and lived a minimalist life with a healer and midwife for a mother and a father who thought the government was evil.
This family was isolated in the mountains of Idaho and uneducated. But then Tara started educating herself.
And the journey she takes – and lives through – is heartbreaking and horrifying.
Really, those are the only words I can think of to describe all that happens to this little girl. And a lot happens to her.
This family is uncomplicated in its beliefs; the government is trying to watch them; hospitals are evil; the mainstream is conspiracy. Period. The fundamental foundation of their lives is simplicity and finding a way to survive off the land when the end of days comes.
There are people who live like this.
But the web that is woven around them is complex. The family dynamics is not simple and the struggle between what is “good” and what is “evil” starts to become tested. We watch as Westover shares her experiences dealing with outsiders, older siblings and her father’s downright disregard for the safety of his children.
I was left gasping during some scenes. I couldn’t believe the situations this man put his children in. And yes, one could blame him simpleton ways, however as a parent, there is little thought to consequence, other than that of the possibility of outsider interference.
I kept hoping her mother would open her eyes; see the situations for what they were. I believe she did see and understand what was happening, but her life had gotten ahead of her and she didn’t know how to help her children anymore.
This left me feeling sad. I often felt a pit in my stomach when I read this book. As a mother I can’t understand the choices these parents made regarding their children. I can’t believe the way behaviours and actions were justified.
We’ve all seen movies and read stories of fundamentalist religious fanatics, but to read this girls’ reality was hard. She grew up among guns and paranoia, often neglected and put in harms way. These children didn’t have birth certificates, nor did these parents even remember their actual birth days. If there was an accident, it was dealt with quietly and with natural remedies, as per “God’s will”.
And we’re not speaking of little scrapes and bruises, we’re talking broken bones and burnt flesh. This is a reality that I can’t fathom. A life I can’t pretend to put myself in.
It’s a nightmare. It’s so difficult to read, and yet so fascinating that I couldn’t put the book down.
I wanted to cry and scream and yet, I wanted to save this girl from the people who were supposed to protect her. The “end of days” isn’t the scariest concept to imagine in this book. All the ugly details of how they manage to survive day in and day out is.
And yet, without sounding cheesy – like a phoenix, she rose from the ashes. She somehow found the courage to take a step to go to college. She learned about the Holocaust, slavery and civil rights. It seems almost unfathomable that somebody wouldn’t have heard of these events, these defining moments in time and yet here was this simple girl, in a college classroom not understanding that these events actually took place in the real world.
Don’t be disillusioned, her journey doesn’t suddenly become easy once she decides to get an education. She struggles, both in learning about history, but more with life in general away from her family. She is truly a fish out of water. The world isn’t the way she was taught, and the people in it aren’t like her. So, amid learning from books, she learns about the world and society and, most importantly she learns about herself.
It is a metamorphosis that isn’t easy for her, or her family. They fight the change tooth and nail. The battle between what she thought and what she is learning is so moving and you are rooting for her to keep going. To fight against her fears and push on. You want her to cut ties with this crazy clan she calls her family, but how does one cut ties with their own past? How does one doubt everything you thought you knew? Or question the love and loyalty for your parents and siblings?
Tara Westover not only graduates with a college education after coming from nothing, but she earns a PhD and fellowship from Harvard. More importantly, she finds a way to truly survive – not for the end of days, but for real life.
She is an inspiration and her story isn’t for the faint of heart.
So please, do yourself a favour, and read this book!