By: Tara Westover
How I came across this book:
I kept seeing this book displayed in multiple bookstores. Every time I read the summary, truthfully, I just wasn’t that interested. I thought I’d heard this story before, a brainwashing family keeping their children trapped by not educating them; been there, heard that. Despite my disinterest, something kept drawing me back to it. I don’t know what it was, but I finally caved. After digging into the first few pages, I was immediately hooked. This is a fantastic memoir.
What was the book about:
Educated by Tara Westover is a remarkable memoir about a Mormon family living in Idaho. Each chapter entangles you deeper into her story. It follows Westover’s isolated upbringing living in their farm house by the mountains. You see the complexity of the life this family lived following their father’s strict interpretation of Mormonism. Westover was so isolated from the community around her that she never truly realized how different her life was from the average American. As she grew up she began to question many things, especially the lack of education she was receiving at home. With the help of her brother she begins to teach herself math and science to try and get admitted to college. While she begins to focus most of her time on her study’s we see the escalation of violence within her household. Westover’s brother begins to physically and psychologically abuse her. Once Westover gets admitted to college she finally gets the opportunity to leave home. Her seclusion from the world is magnified in college. This is especially clear when she begins to learn about world events that she had never heard of before, like the Holocaust. As time progresses you see her gradually drifting from her family in many wars. This drifting eventually leads to an excommunication from her family. I kept reading, hoping that things would get better for Tara and her family; I was hoping that something would be done about her brother. Westover keeps you holding on to hope, the same way she holds hope today that she will one day be reunited with her family (under her terms).
Some personal thoughts:
At the very beginning Westover emphasized that this book was not an attack on Mormonism or any other type of religious belief. She wanted to make sure it was clear that she was not putting faith or religion down because, in many situations, other Mormons or people of faith had tried to help her. It was clear that her fathers interpretation was very different then others and this is what caused the biggest struggles within the family. I think this was important for her to include, to show her readers this is a story of her family not a story of Mormonism. To me, the real problems were the mental illness her father and brother faced. Westover shows how bad things could get if people don’t get the treatment they need.
This book taught me more about mental health and how it can impact, not only the people who have a mental illness, but also the people who are surrounded by it. I think this lesson is so important for society today as we try to gain a clearer understanding of what mental health is and how we can support people who suffer from it.
The themes of this book:
There are many different themes in this book. Some of the themes that stood out to me were: male patriarchy, mental health, physical abuse, psychological abuse, the power of manipulation and the impact of family love.
In her household, Mormonism was the practiced faith, but as she makes very clear, her family’s version of Mormonism was not standard and far more strict than most other Mormon families. Her father was the clear head of the household, and the wife and children had to listen attentively to the father at all times. She was raised with the idea that the man would be the head, and the woman would raise children and tend to household duties. A woman’s role would only be in the kitchen. Throughout the book, her father and brother make many comments to her reminding her that she should be focusing on redirecting her life to the proper role of a woman.
It is clear from the very beginning that her father has severe mental health problems. His version of Mormonism teeters between faith and insanity. The way he treats his wife and children seems to change daily, rotating between kind and fatherly to authoritarian and angry. I noticed his mental illness more clearly when he become increasingly more paranoid. He spent so much of his time and money preparing for the end of time. The whole family spent many days preparing for this, canning fruits and vegetables and storing gasoline. He also forced his children to stay home from school, which is another way he tried to control his family. Many Mormons attend school, and many go on to continue their studies in college and university.
As well, her brother Shawn has clear anger management issues. The way he manipulates and abuses women and finds joy out of their embarrassment seem to be signs of severe psychological problems. The fact that her brother is still living in Idaho with his family is worrisome.
Physical and mental abuse
This theme was probably the most obvious. The violence that Shawn showed towards multiple members of his family was genuinely frightening. After each physical altercation took place, he would manipulate his victims into thinking they were at fault or that he was just playing with them. This was indeed the most frightening part of her brother. Through her portrayal of these incidents, how she felt and how quickly she forgot what he had done, one can begin to understand why so many abused women go back to their abuser. For this reason alone, I think it is an important book to gain a clearer understanding of the mind set of those that get abused by someone they love.
Power of manipulation
In the final part of the book, Tara and her sister confront their parents about the abuse they had experienced from their brother. This is the most shocking moment in the book. The way their mother cowers to their father, the way their parents refuse to believe what they are saying, is really upsetting. Later on, Tara’s sister is manipulated into thinking she was wrong about what she said about Shawn abusing her. It is scary to see what the human brain can convince itself, with just a bit of encouragement.
Tara struggles so much near the end to figure out how her new educated life can fit into her life with her family. She doesn’t want to lose her family because, ultimately, she does love them. This love keeps her tied to her family; this love keeps her returning to her home town. In the end, she realizes that despite the love she has for them, she cannot go back to that life.
I believe the book’s overall message is by becoming educated you free yourself to feel and understand the way you want to. Only through this freedom can you live your own life and make your own decisions.
Here is a link to her website: https://tarawestover.com/