Reviewed and Recommended: Educated, by Tara Westover

IMG_20180619_083551502As a teacher, I loved this book. Westover’s memoir of slowly growing into literacy despite coming from an abusive, rural, fundamentalist environment that harshly discouraged it is inspiring in many ways–it makes readers grateful for the lives we’re blessed with, it makes us grateful that Westover’s voice gets to be heard now, it gives us an example of determination and passion to follow–but for me, it mostly reminded me of just how much difference good teachers can make.

It reminded me that teachers have great power to shape minds by opening them and challenging them. That might be a cliché, but the proof is in the prose: consider this passage where Westover remembers early writing sessions with a great teacher. I wish that my students would look back on their writing development and credit me for this much concrete guidance!

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Beyond nuts and bolts, the teacher as mentor who helps students find their true selves is also given due time to shine:

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As a reader, I loved this book. Westover’s writing reaches all the superlatives for which we yearn: confident, polished, original, lyrical, but never fussy or pretentious. My favorite example of this is actually a chapter title. This may be the best chapter title I’ve ever seen.

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I can only hope that she’ll go on to write novels, also. Considering her training, maybe historical fiction? I will read her next book in a heartbeat.

Her perspective of the power of reading, and of thinking deeply about reading, touched me–this is one of those books where the lonely reader may see himself or herself in the words of a stranger, even one whose life was dangerous and scary at times when your own life, just two states away, was comfortable and happy. Two great examples:

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As a Mormon, I loved this book. She starts with a brief prologue saying that this book is not about Mormonism, and indeed, where a wary reader might wonder how the LDS Church will look in a setting as violent as this story’s, one needn’t worry. For example, two of the book’s heroic helpers are a roommate and a bishop at BYU, who assisted her immensely.

Westover never clearly comes out and says it, but it’s obvious that at some point in her young life as she came into her own that she also lost her connection with the church, but she’s never negative about it at all. Honestly, I can hardly blame her for not being too keen on it, knowing her family background. It’s hard not to throw the baby out with the bathwater when the bathwater is radioactive.

I find it oddly funny that Westover’s family rejects modern medicine, claiming to be faithful adherents to a church whose new president is a heart surgeon.

In one quick and seemingly random passage near the end of the book, Westover mentions that she was in the Middle East on the day that bin Laden was caught and killed:

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Was there a subconscious corollary to her father there, a coded message for herself and her readers, defining the line between her life’s immediate environment and the larger, better world around it? I saw those lines, but I also saw them this way: “He’s no Mormon. He does not understand the gospel, or he would not do the terrible things he’s done.”

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3 comments on “Reviewed and Recommended: Educated, by Tara Westover

  1. I’m glad you liked this book, but one of our family friends lives in the same area as her family and is acquainted with them, and has quite a different take on this author’s story. Her family didn’t ‘reject modern medicine’ – her mother, from what I understand, was a nurse, so didn’t feel the need to rush her kids to the hospital for emergencies she could deal with. The other problem is that her story often contradicts her sibling’s memories of their childhood experiences. The author may not have lied, but she certainly exaggerated for effect.
    That being said, I haven’t actually read the book, only talked to my mother’s friend about it, so you may take this all with a grain of salt.

    • I’ve read articles that mention the same type of thing your comment says and I found that super interesting that some of the family doesn’t think that all elements of the story matches up. A lot of the comments on those articles were about how easy it is to find the family members on Facebook and how some of them have actually written about what differences they saw in her book verses the way they perceived the environment they grew up in or what the core beliefs of the family and parents were.

      I found the brother, Tyler, most easily and it seemed he had a blog mentioning what he felt like was different in her book than the way he experienced it. It seems from the comments on the post with the link to his blog that Tyler gave some pretty lengthy or insightful comments on his blog, but unfortunately when I went to look at it, all the actual blog posts were gone.

      One thing I absolutely loved about the way Tara Westover wrote her book, was that she referenced how that this was her story and the way that she perceived the events and overall situation. She’s pretty clear that the trauma she went through may skew the way she views certain memories. From my perspective, the most important part of the book is the fact that she so obviously dealt with many hardships. She is telling the world that through gaining her education she was able to create a life that she is excited about living. She feels energized and renewed by finding a new way to perceive the world and the situation she grew up in and that all came through gaining her education.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the book. I enjoyed it for several of the reasons you listed above. I loved her comment about how positive or negative correlation to Mormonism wasn’t intentional, or something to that fact. I didn’t feel disrespected as an active and practicing Mormon by any means. I loved how she let us into her mind and her thought processes, especially the part with her brand new roommates and her first impressions of being a part of the outside world, away from her home and her comfort zone. I was fascinated by her stories and it was so easy to route for her as a character and as a person.

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