Tara Westover’s memoir Educated recently made The New York Times’s non-fiction bestseller list. So, what’s all the hype about?
Tara’s Mormon family lives on the fringes of society in rural Idaho. Her father, Gene, rules over his wife and seven children with unyielding survivalist convictions. Tara, the youngest of the children, is deeply influenced by her father’s beliefs and fierce mood swings. His paranoia is fuelled by conspiracy theories about the government and he refuses to send his children to school. Tara’s education consists of a few lessons by her mother where they would ‘do school’. Consequently, her ideas and beliefs are shaped by her family members, her time as mother’s assistant in midwifery and herbalism, and her experiences working in her father’s junkyard. As she attempts to broaden her understanding of the world, she not only has to overcome her family’s prejudices but also the doubts and boundaries in her own mind.
In a sense, Educated reads like a work of fiction. Tara’s descriptions of her home and the vivid portrayal of her family members draw the reader into situations that are bizarre and infuriating at times. Her story’s not fictional, of course, which makes the dynamic of the book even more interesting. When someone captures their memories in this way, it’s fascinating to note how some people and events are sharply in focus while others are left blurry in the background. Westover’s depiction of Buck’s Peak and the surrounding countryside is striking and emotive. The same can be said of her family members who come to life on the page, most notable her father, mother and brother, Shawn. Tara herself remains a shadowy figure in the book. Although the story is ultimately about her journey, her thoughts and emotions often feel secondary to the events themselves, almost like she’s narrating someone else’s story. This is most notable during some of the more shocking scenes, but I think this works as it steers the narrative clear of melodrama. My impression is that she never gave herself over to playing the victim, although it could certainly be argued that she has every right to feel that way. I can only guess whether this was intentional on her part or if it’s revealing of her outlook on life.
Whether or not you’re a fan of memoirs, this one’s for you if you like a heroine who overcomes incredible odds and rises above her circumstances. Tara’s achievements truly are impressive given her background. The book could be the inspiration you needed (if she can do it, so can you!) or simply an enjoyable read to satiate your curiosity.
For those who are curious about the author and her story, here’s an interview she did for The Ellen Show.