Book Review of Educated by Tara Westover

Tara Westover’s Educated is brutal, compelling and tragic. It is not an easy read and her experiences have clearly left more than physical scars behind. It is clear that Westover is still coming to terms with the abuse she has been subjected to and and is still, at least to some extent, escaping it and its effect. I suppose she always will be.

Westover is being compared to the likes of Jeanette Winterson and Lorna Sage, Without wishing to sound too flippant, or undermine these excellent books and the experiences of their authors, I would argue that in comparison, therir lives are are presented as being a ‘stroll in the park on a Sunday afternoon.’ Harrowing beyond belief and  painful to read, Tara Westover’s Educated will surely become a classic memoir.

Educated by Tara Westover is sure to become a modern classic.

Educated is an account of Tara Westover’s life as part of a Mormon funadmentalist family living in Idaho. Her father becomes increasingly radical, her brother Shawn grows to be increasingly abusive, and her mother is either unable or chooses not to protect her. It is essential to her survival, both emotional and quite possibly actual, that she escapes the confinements of her childhood and moves away. She achieves this through the path education. 

Westover is keen to point out, in the author’s note that Educated is not criticizing any religion. She is scrupulous in the book in the use of footnotes to show when she has paraphrased; she always acknowledges when her memory may not be completely accurate The need to present absolute truth demonstrates how difficult it has been to leave behind the world she grew up in where she has constantly been expected and forced to accept twisted and manipulated ‘truths’ of her reality. She is cut, beaten and abused, yet the abuser’s behaviour occurs, or so she is told, in order for her to enact the ‘power of atonement’.

There is a chasm between her educated Cambridge and Harvard life, and her childhood spent preparing for the ‘End of Days’. She leaves behind the mountain which she so beautifully describes in the opening page of the book, but finds the transition to belonging in the world of academia almost an insurmountable challenge. Westwood grew up without any schooling often in fear. and squalor. The contradictions of her life were enormous. She needed to constantly dress modestly yet was accused of being a whore; Westwood needed to accept the doctrines of a woman’s place being in the home, whilst working in hard and dangerous conditions in the scrapyard and she needed to accept unquestionably her bi-polar’s father’s version of truth as fact when it so clearly wasn’t.

Book Discussion Questions for Educated

Why has Westover called the book Educated? 

It is not until Tara reaches ‘adulthood’ that she realises that Shawn has abused her sister Audrey prior to his abuse of her. Audrey ultimately chooses not to escape the life she has had and instead condones what has happened.  Explore how Audrey and Tara are both similar and different. 

The university professors in the book are represented as ‘saintly’ and one of them even descirbes Tara’s situation metaphorically as being like ‘Pygmalion’. Explore why it either can or cannot be seen in this manner.

After Tara’s father suffers horrific burns his wife and children nurse him back to something aproaching health. Tara’s father uses his recovery as further evidence that hospitals are the work of the devil. What other ways does he use religion to ‘prove’ his own beliefs are correct? What does this reveal about him

Towards the end of the book the Westover family becomes relatively rich due to the success of the home remedies and tinctures that Tara’s mother makes? Explore the various ironies in this turn of events? 

How is the mountain used as a metaphor within the book? 

Whilst not for a minute disputing the events that occurred in this memoir, all narratives are inevitably biased (as Westover actually points out).. Is it possible to put a more ‘positive spin’ on any of the events in this book? Could Tara have stay in Idaho and had a happy life? Why or why not? 

In the memoir Tara’s family are afraid of the ‘Feds’ and are quite isolated. Should the state have been more involved in what was happening on Bucks Peak? 

Why do you think Tara’s mother chooses to not believe that Shawn abused her?

Some books really resonate with the reader and stay with them for weeks, months and years. Do you think this memoir might be one such book? Why or why not? 

If this was a work of fiction do you think it would be less or more convincing a read? Why or why not? 

Book Discussion Questions for Educated (If you haven't read the book!)

The accounts of Shawn’s fall from the pallet and Luke’s burn are seen differently by different characters in the book. (Readers, quickly explain to the non-readers what happened.) Have you had incidents in your own lives where your memory of the truth is completely different to that held by other family members? 

When Tara studied at Cambridge she comments how  photographs taken at the time show her looking very similar to other students. This perhaps illustrates a desperate need to fit in and seem ‘normal’? To what extent do we all need to ‘fit in’ to our chosen worlds? Look around the room – how does the need to fit in show itself in this bookclub environment? 

As a memoir Educated will surely become a modern classic. What other memoirs have you enjoyed reading and why? 

Towards the end of the memoir Tara makes tentative steps towards developing a relationship with her mother’s family. Would you like to share any personal stories about family dynamics, and perhaps getting to know estranged family members later in life?

Tara states that her father would probably like to reinstate polygamy as part of Mormonism. Disuss polygamy a a concept.

When Tara Westover went to University she had never heard of the holocaust. Have you ever found yourself feeling very ignorant about something? Discuss how this made you feel. 

Tara Westover’s father felt that you can teach yourself something better than anyone else can teach you it. Do you agree?

Tara Westover used her journals as a source for her writing. Do you keep a journal? Why or why not? What are the benefits of diary writing?

Tara Westover is always keen to acknowledge that her truth is just one view of events.

Summing up of Tara Westover's Educated

Tara Westover states in the clip above that she doesn’t know what is next for her. She seems sympathetic to Mormonism as a religion, yet doesn’t practise it herself. In writing the book she has shown enormous courage, empathy and compassion for that which she has rejected and takes pain to never mock or undermine the people living around her. She is still a young woman finding her place in the world and. having finished the book. I am left intrigued to know what she will do and write next. I highly recommend this memoir as a leveller and inspirational, thought provoking text. I thin it even surpasses Girl, Woman, Other as a new favourite! 

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