All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Educated by Tara Westover

on August 26, 2019

Tara Westover
Windmill Books
2018, 384p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. She spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating emergency supplies, hoping that when the World of Men failed, her family would continue on, unaffected.

She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in doctors or hospitals. According to the state and federal government, she didn’t exist.

As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At sixteen Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home.

EDUCATED is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with the severing of the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, from her singular experience Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

My parents just left yesterday after being here with us for two weeks to celebrate our oldest son’s 11th birthday, which was lots of fun. We went to the Melbourne Zoo on his actual birthday and did the giraffe behind the scenes experience, which my husband and I have done before. It’s really amazing. Giraffes are such amazing creatures, so huge and gentle looking. Their big eyes and eyelashes and fuzzy little horns are the best. I do not understand how anyone can shoot one and feel that’s an accomplishment in life. I mean, I don’t understand big game hunting at all anyway, I think it’s all pathetic. But something about looking into a giraffe’s eyes makes it somehow even more heinous.

So it was good to have the family staying but the downside is always the blog gets neglected and not many books get read! Goodreads is already getting ready to chastise me – I’ve gone from about 4-5 books ahead to just on track so I need to sort myself out! I guess because I haven’t read that many I’m not super behind on reviews but I’m enough behind that it gives me a bit of anxiety about catching up as well as finding the time to start tackling my monthly TBR, which I have made almost zero progress on. Because I’ve been reading library books!

Educated was a book I chose for my participation in the Reading Women Podcast Challenge where the prompt was to choose a book from the 2018 Reading Women Podcast Award shortlist. This was really the only one that interested me and I’d heard plenty about it recently, plus it was easily accessible through my local library. This book was fascinating as all heck but man, do I have questions upon finishing it.

Tara grew up in remote Idaho, the daughter of a Doomsday Prepper type. She was a home birth, didn’t have a birth certificate until she was 9. Didn’t ever go to the doctor or a hospital. Didn’t go to school. She spent her childhood being halfheartedly taught by her mother and working a scrapyard with her father who seemed to delight in pushing his children to do dangerous things that might actually kill them in an attempt to keep his business afloat. After encouragement from one of her siblings who ‘flew the nest’, Tara educated herself enough to pass an exam to be accepted to Brigham Young University, where she at first found not only fitting in, but the academics a struggle. She didn’t understand until like a semester in, that she had to read the textbook for the course. She was just looking at the pictures, which was something I found a little bit mind boggling. What did she think all the accompanying words are for? She didn’t even glance at them, out of curiosity? Didn’t notice that the chapters or subjects might’ve corresponded to things her lecturer was talking about? Anyway, somehow we get from that to her winning some scholarship to Cambridge University and also being invited to Harvard and there seems to be a lot skipped in between of how she went from the girl that didn’t know what her textbook was for to the girl who got to go and study at a couple of the most prestigious universities in the world.

As well as her learning to make her way in a world as an adult that she wasn’t prepared for, there’s a lot about her home life and it’s one of paranoia and violence. One of Tara’s older brothers grew more and more violent from the time she was in about her mid-teens, regularly abusing her physically and verbally and quite often, it seems like most of the family turned a blind eye. Even when his behaviour became more known or talked about, excuses were often made and it was Tara who generally bore the brunt of the family’s wrath for not forgiving him or not understanding why he was like that. Eventually she became estranged from her family because she couldn’t do what they wanted in terms of basically just forgetting what he had done and moving on as if it had never happened. No one wanted him to actually take responsibility for his behaviour and apologise or to, it seems, even accept it was wrong. And it was mostly her family that rejected her, not the other way around. There are several times in the book where she attempts to make amends with them only to be told the same thing over and over, basically that her feelings don’t matter and what she experienced doesn’t matter anymore, that she should just forgive her brother and move on. I really felt for her in those moments, because she isn’t asking for anything outrageous, she still wants to be a part of her family, despite the gaslighting and abuse she has experienced, and not just from Shawn. But the more she went back there, the more I was like ‘you’re not going to get what you need here, cut your losses and just move on for the sake of your own mental health’.

Tara’s parents have made claims that some of what she describes in the book isn’t true or has been greatly exaggerated. There’s a picture of her father, who, in the book, was apparently burned so bad he nearly (and probably should have) died and was basically saved by Tara’s mother’s herbal remedies and the sloughing away of his dead skin day after day and yet he looks unblemished. Now it’s possible the picture is from before he was burned and they’re saying it’s from after. It’s possible Tara’s youth made the burns seem much worse to her than they were in reality and she’s openly frank in several instances in the books where she’s consulted her siblings on their memories of incidents and their memories differ greatly to hers. So sometimes we do remember things differently and trauma can probably affect memories, as can youth and connection to the person injured.

‘Memoirs’ like those by Helen Demidenko and James Frey mean that sometimes people are wary of experiences they read, are careful to take things with a grain of salt. Do I believe in all of Tara’s experience? I honestly don’t know. I would’ve liked more on her adaptation into university as a capable student, not just the stuff she found awkward or got wrong, because it’s difficult to imagine her going from Point A to Point Z without seeing some more of the competent stuff in between. She’s obviously a very intelligent and hard working woman, she has done the absolute best she can to use education as a means of escape from a lifestyle that was not fulfilling for her and was probably downright dangerous, between her brother’s abuse and the manipulative demands by her father that she work in the business in order to continue to be allowed live in the family home. The abuse however, that felt far more defined to me, you can see it escalating in the way that family violence so often does. The way that Tara tries to fight back sometimes, that only earns her more rage and how she then quickly acquiesces in order to restore things to the status quo.

It’s impossible to read and not have questions. The questions I have don’t mean I doubt the story being told or think that the author is lying or embellishing or making things up. It just means that not everything was covered and that some of what has been told here has thrown up questions for me which weren’t addressed at all or not in a significant enough way. After all, 6 of the 7 children attended some form of higher education and apparently 3 of them (at least 2, Tara and also Tyler) have Ph.Ds. Either her mother’s education is much better than Tara credits her with in this book or the offspring are of incredible high intelligence that they were able to overcome a lack of formative education and still earn Ph.D’s in a timely manner. So in summary, I found this a really well written and compelling emotional read but I am left with questions that went unanswered.


Book #126 of 2019

Educated was read as part of my participation in the Reading Women Podcast Challenge for 2019. It checks off prompt #17, from the 2018 Reading Women Award Shortlist and is book #16 for the challenge.


2 responses to “Review: Educated by Tara Westover

  1. Lloyd Russell says:

    I listened to the audiobook. When I went to a book club meeting, everybody else had read the book and really liked it. I don’t know if the problem was the narrator. But, for some reason, the book didn’t resonate with me. I use a scale of 4 and rated it a 2.5.

    Lloyd (408) 348-4849

    On Sun, Aug 25, 2019 at 6:33 PM All The Books I Can Read wrote:

    > 1girl2manybooks posted: “Educated Tara Westover Windmill Books 2018, 384p > Read from my local library Blurb {from the publisher/}: Tara > Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to > darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. Sh” >

  2. […] From 2018 Reading Women Award shortlist – Educated by Tara Westover. My review. […]

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