Thursday, 3 May 2018

Educated: A Memoir

Author: Tara Westover

Genre: Biography, Memoir
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Harper Collins
First Published: February 20, 2018
First Line: "I'm standing on the red railway car that sits abandoned next to the barn".

Book Description from GoodReads:
 An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castle about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag.” In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: This book is about a girl who, despite her parents' lack of support and encouragement for formal education, manages to start her academic journey at the age of seventeen. With perseverance, dedication and help from people outside her tight knit, dysfunctional family, she is rewarded years later with her PhD.

Raised by her fundamentalist parents on a secluded mountain in Buck Peak, Idaho, her childhood was not a typical one. Her family situation was dire, brutal and heartbreaking. Her parents, especially her father, were suspicious of the government and determined to keep their children away from its influence, which included attending school. Their days were spent working in their family's metal scrapyard with shockingly little concern for their safety, but it was the mental abuse and control that her parents wielded over the children, that was the scariest and had the longest lasting effects.

Much of the book focuses on this dysfunctional bond with her family and how it conflicted with her deep-seated desire to educate herself. I'll admit that I found the first third of the book slow, but after that point I had a hard time putting it down. For a book where you already know the outcome going in, I was amazed at how riveted I was by Westover's life, her decisions and her repeated struggles to find out who she is, despite her childhood and family's pressure to conform. 

This is a well-written and impressive memoir that doesn't hold back. It has its touching moments but often it's a heartbreaking story about a girl who struggles to find her way in the world despite her family's hold on her. Many scenes were hard to read, and I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn't a work of fiction. Westover's childhood was appalling but her story becomes one of perseverance, healing and strength.

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

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