I’m late to the game on this one, but I’m so glad I finally got to it. Tara Westover’s life has been something else, and she’s lucky she’s even alive to be writing books.
Tara Westover was 17 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.
Tara eventually started teaching herself math and grammar in order to take the ACT and be accepted into Brigham Young University. She worked hard and earned some truly amazing educational experiences, including receiving her PhD from Cambridge University.
Growing up in a survivalist family that didn’t trust the government or modern medicine might have been okay…but Tara’s father and one of her older brothers had significant mental health issues that exacerbated and twisted their Mormon beliefs. Tara’s mother refused to stand up to either one of them, even when she knew her other children were in danger. Tara’s father was the patriarch of the family and not to be questioned, and he stood up for the violent older brother. And because Tara’s father didn’t trust doctors and modern medicine, there was no chance of him or his son being treated professionally for these issues. I’m writing all of this in the past tense, but I’m sure these familial and mental health issues are still going on today.
“It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you, I had written in my journal. But Shawn had more power over me than I could possibly have imagined. He had defined me to myself, and there’s no greater power than that.”
Tara’s violent older brother was a gaslighter of the highest degree. He had Tara convinced that she was a worthless whore who needed fixing. She was convinced that she didn’t deserve the opportunities she was given when she eventually left the family home to get an education and make a new life for herself. Her father and mother also ended up gaslighting her into believing that her memories about her childhood and the abuse she received from her brother were all wrong. I can’t imagine growing up like this. I can’t imagine being treated this way by the very people who were supposed to protect me from situations like this.
“Why did you fight so hard against made-up monsters, but do nothing about the monsters in your own house?”
Growing up, I knew someone like Tara’s violent older brother. He was an awful, violent, abusive person who treated just about everyone around him like crap. I was terrified of him. He has an older sister and two younger brothers, one of whom I was very good friends with. That jerk is the person my mind kept turning to while I was reading about Tara’s brother, Shawn. I know he had a tendency to treat his siblings terribly. It was bad enough to have to deal with this guy in school and at parties…I can’t imagine what it would have been like to live in the same house with him.
But this book isn’t really about growing up in a house with mental health issues and violent family members. It’s really about Tara’s education about herself. It’s about Tara reinventing herself and becoming the person she wanted to be, not the person her family convinced her she was. Yes, this had a lot to do with her classroom education at Brigham Young, Harvard, and Cambridge, but she had to work very hard to learn about herself and undo years of mental abuse to find out who she really is…and she had to give up the majority of her family and work through the guilt of that in the process.
Educated is a phenomenal, and I think important, book. Tara writes openly about her family’s and her own mental health issues, and I think other people who have had to live with abusive families might be able to find solace and a sense of “I’m not alone” in her words. I give Tara Westover mad props for being who and where she is today–she has survived so much already and she should be very proud of herself.