Sometimes you read a book and it affects you so much that you just have to talk about it with someone. That’s how it is for me with Educated, and I’m lucky that one of my colleagues has also just read it and can’t stop talking about it either. We might be boring all the people who have to listen to us, but on the plus side, I think we’ve gotten a lot of people interested in reading the book!
Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, is in the tradition of Jeannette Walls’ Glass Castle, the story of a young woman who grew up in poverty and isolation but got out through her own strength and determination. That in itself would be remarkable, but there’s much more to it. Her family are survivalist Mormons, living on a mountain in Idaho. Her father, who suffers from an undiagnosed mental illness, is convinced that the End of Days is coming and stockpiles food and supplies. He does not trust the government or the medical establishment, will not send his children to school (brainwashing, he calls it), and has not even obtained birth certificates for all his kids. Westover’s mother, a midwife and herbalist, defers to her husband, even when she doesn’t entirely agree. Oh, and to add to all of this, there are horrible, gruesome injuries and an abusive brother thrown into the mix. Yet Westover teaches herself to take the ACT, gets into BYU, and goes on to Harvard and Cambridge University, where she earns her PhD.
What’s so incredible about this book (beyond the story itself) is that Westover is such an amazing writer, and she basically taught herself how to do it. In a New York Times article, she says “I needed to learn the fundamentals of the craft. I had never written a word of narrative.” Well, you sure wouldn’t guess that in reading the book. Westover writes like a veteran, making the incidents in her life leap off the page and inspiring a huge range of emotions in the reader.
I can’t say enough about this book. It’s one of those “you couldn’t make this stuff up” stories, and Westover herself is a wonder. If you’d like to hear her thoughts, you can catch her on NPR’s Fresh Air, or read this short article in the Times.