Skip to main content

Educated: A Memoir


Educated: A Memoir

Tara Westover was born and raised beneath a majestic mountain affectionately called the Princess. The youngest of seven children in rural Idaho, she spent most of her time outside or helping her mother create the herbal tinctures that supplemented the family’s income.

The short prologue to Westover’s memoir, EDUCATED, begins with a lovely description of the family farm, the swaths of sagebrush and thistle coming down the hills toward the house. But this idyll of family and the tranquility of nature are soon shattered. The Westover family are fundamentalist Mormons but are outliers even in their community. Only the oldest three children had ever been to school, and they never had any medical care or treatment. Westover’s father, who she speculates has an undiagnosed mental illness, was a paranoid bully who was constantly preparing for the end of the world.

"Westover’s writing style is straightforward, even as she recounts heart-wrenching details and abusive events.... EDUCATED is a terrific, if harrowing, read."

When she turned 16, inspired by her older brother, Westover began to think about college as a way to escape her dangerous and suffocating home environment. Her journey from the chaos of her home amid her father’s junkyard to the ivy-covered walls and libraries of Cambridge will enthrall readers.

There are many fascinating threads to the story Westover weaves in EDUCATED. The context here is important but also complicated. The Westovers were on the fringes of traditional Mormonism. While most of their neighbors sent their children to public school, to the doctor for check-ups and injuries, and let them participate in various activities, Westover’s father distrusted the schools and the medical profession, not to mention the government and other Mormons. Physical ailments, including some astonishingly serious ones, were treated with homemade herbal remedies and salves, and later by “energy healing.” Apart from a short-lived period of community theater and an even shorter-lived period of dance lessons, Westover was isolated from other children. She was taught to read but had no formal education in math, history or science until she left home for BYU after teaching herself trigonometry and more to prepare for the ACT.

The adjustments she had to make in order to attend college cannot be understated. From hygiene to social skills to study habits, Westover was vastly unprepared for her new life. Brilliant and committed, she worked hard, driven by both a desire to learn and a sense of self-preservation that meant breaking free of her family. Her successes are just as uplifting to read about as her familial life is frankly terrifying. Westover is careful not to indict religion in general or Mormonism in particular, and presents the story of her upbringing as specifically her own; of course, though, it is the lens through which her parents see the world.

Westover’s writing style is straightforward, even as she recounts heart-wrenching details and abusive events. Her quest for autonomy, learning, understanding and acceptance can break your heart, even as it has you cheering for her empowerment. EDUCATED is a terrific, if harrowing, read.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on February 22, 2018

Educated: A Memoir
by Tara Westover

  • Publication Date: February 20, 2018
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 0399590501
  • ISBN-13: 9780399590504