Educated by Tara Westover: A Book Review

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I had heard much about Educated by Tara Westover.  Most of what I heard was about homeschooling and how it shouldn’t be unregulated; those who argue that use Educated as proof of their argument.  For sure, Tara Westover and her siblings were deprived of their education growing up in their conservative household in Idaho, but to me, that’s not really what the book is about.

To me, the book is about growing up under the influence of a father’s raging mental illness and how it affects everyone in the family differently.

Tara Westover is the youngest of seven kids born to “Gene,” a survivalist, and his wife, “Faye.”  They are not only strict Mormons, but her father fancies himself a prophet and instills even stricter religious rules for the family to follow.  When Tara enters puberty, this, combined with verbal and physical abuse from one of her brothers, leaves her confused and doubtful about who she is and what role she is supposed to play.  When her brother says she has a “reputation” in town (untrue), her father immediately assumes Tara is pregnant.  Tara, who had never even kissed a boy, wondered if she was pregnant.  She had no idea how a pregnancy occured, and this is when she is 15!

Gene is a survivalist and wants to be completely independent.  Before Y2K, he bought 1,000 gallons of fuel and buried it in the yard, certain that the neighbors would want to steal it.  As far as Tara knows, the fuel is still buried in her parents’ yard.  Gene most likely is suffering from bipolar, and he routinely stocks up on supplies for the end of the world.

Against all odds, Tara decides she wants to go to college.  She studies for months for the ACT, and after taking the test several times, her score is high enough to get into college.  When Westover writes about her first semester at the university, it’s almost comical.  She had no idea about any major historical events such as the Civil Rights Movement or the Holocaust.  It’s hard for me to imagine how someone who had so much ground to make up could go on to excel as a college student.

The longer Westover is away at college, the more she starts to see her upbringing and her family in new light.  As a reader, I could see that her father was mentally ill and that over time, some of her siblings and mother began to pick up on some of his beliefs.  However, at this point, the book got a bit difficult to me because Westover has a hard time realizing the truth about her upbringing, and many of her memories are unclear and ever changing.  I felt like I was seeing her life through a thick fog.  I understand that her life was difficult and unconventional, but after finishing the book, I’m still not sure what the “truth” of her upbringing is.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.

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