Review: Tara Westover’s ‘Educated’ shows the struggle and beauty of maturing through education

“Educated” by Tara Westover is a riveting memoir that brings up hard topics that are important to consider for everyone, but in particular, college students. The book, a coming of age story, captures Westover’s life as she slowly grows out of her radicalized Mormon upbringing. She does so through means of education. The memoir encompasses what it is like to be confronted with new ideas, and what it means to shift your beliefs and opinions while also knowing the way back home.

This book is gripping, combining masterful storytelling ability with honesty and page-turning prose. The result is a read that’s impossible to put down.

While living in the mountains of Idaho, the Westover family didn’t believe in traditional medicine, so all cuts, burns, concussions, broken limbs etc. were treated at home with herbalism. It also meant that they didn’t believe in public education so Tara, and her brothers, received very little to no schooling before the age of 17.Westover was taught growing up that a woman’s place was in the home, and more specifically the kitchen.

As the story opens, She prescribes to the way of life on the mountain. Her father believed the world was going to end, that public school is run by the Illuminati and that women should be subservient to men. Tara did as well. It is frustrating for the reader to listen to young Tara buy into her family’s doctrine, but what is even more frustrating is that she uses their lens to view herself, and specifically what it looks like for her to be a woman.

Tara’s abusive brother calls her a whore and her father comments on how women in their church who are simply bending over are sinning. Tara struggles with how to bend over without looking sexual. At points she feels disgusted by her maturing body.When her boyfriend tries to merely touch her hand, she shrinks away.

The memoir’s depiction of abuse is brutal, complex and honest. Tara’s brother relentlessly beats her throughout her childhood; nearly breaking her wrist simply because she spoke with a boy he didn’t like. Yet he comes into her room,and apologizes and calls her special immediately afterward. And instead of being angry with him, Tara asks him to keep her from becoming a “worldly woman.” Without even realizing it Tara has lost her self-worth:she puts her fears of becoming a sinful woman over her personal safety.

Tara finds solace from her abusive family situation through education. As she makes her way through school, starting BYU at 17, she is shocked at how little her parents taught her about the world. She is confronted with topics like the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement, slavery, racism and feminism. Through this exposure she begins to build a new identity. Although, when she goes back to the mountain her new identity is in direct contrast to her old self, that same self that thought it was okay for her brother to beat her. Now, she is a different person defined by the things she learned. Tara’s two identities are unable to co-exist. Her inner turmoil as she struggles to balance who she used to be and who she is becoming forms the books central conflict.

“Educated” introduces difficult topics and questions about what it means when who you are contrasts who you used to be, who your family knew you as and how you think of yourself. Westover doesn’t necessarily answer these questions, but she tells a story highlights the struggle of this change and shows the beauty and emotional magnificence of maturing and evolving through education.  


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