In Tara Westover’s Educated, A Memoir, she recounts her fundamentalist Mormon upbringing inthe shadow of Buck’s Peak in Idaho. She grew up hearing stories of families being gunned down by federal agents, and her father’s proselytizing about the impending end of the world. When his prediction does not play out, Westover notes his childlike disappointment and she wonders why God would deny him his pleasure.
Tara’s father didn’t believe in education, in fact believed it to be a ploy by the government to brainwash children away from God. Home-schooled would be a stretch to describe the kind of education the children received for they were only allowed to study after they finished working a full day in their father’s scrap yard. Tara is the youngest of seven children. Her father is reckless and radical in his Mormonism, and her mother is firmly under his spell. Neither parent acknowledges nor protects Tara from a physically abusive brother who seems intent to destroy her psychologically as well as physically. Her survivalist parents don’t believe in hospitals or traditional medicine — severe cuts, burns, and even head injuries are treated with tinctures and essential oils. None of the children have birth certificates and the family lives under the radar, stockpiling guns and canned peaches. When an older brother leaves the fold to go to college, he encourages Tara to do the same. At 17, she studies books and passes the ACT, taking the test several times to get into Brigham Young University and eventually earning a PhD at Cambridge University. Educated is a story of survival, it is the story of a young girl who must choose between her family and her “self.” The author closes by saying that some may find her search for selfhood a betrayal, some a transformation, she would call it an education. “What has come between me and my father,” Westover writes, “is more than time or distance. It is a change in the self. I am not the child my father raised, but he is the father who raised her.
In leaving Bucks Peak, Tara becomes educated in the broadest sense – from someone who had never heard of the Holocaust, and someone who believed without question in her father’s manic theories and obsessive practices, to someone who learned how to think for herself.
Educated is a heartbreaking memoir about what it means to leave behind everything you know and love in order to find yourself.