Educated by Tara Westover

*Disclaimer: Contains spoilers

I had a phase in which my mind would change quite often about which book is my favorite of all time. When I was 17 I read The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) and no matter what I read after, nothing could top it. It even contains one of my favorite quotes of all time: “Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice.” It remained an all-time-favorite until I came across Tara Westover’s “Educated”, and now my list has at least 2 all-time-favorites. It was recommended to me just after the pandemic broke out in early 2020. As usual, I googled the author and the contents of the book to get an idea of what I would be reading (little did I know I’d be absolutely stunned!). I remember my first thoughts went something along the lines of “hmm.. a memoir. Okay, cool. But she is only 33.” Eh, sure, I’ll give it a go.

Like many people, when the first wave of lockdown came I was stuck at home with all the time in the world. I ordered a bunch of books, including Educated. My friends and I even started a discussion group about the books we were reading and recommendations we got from colleagues and other friends.

It was midday when I started reading and shortly after I realized that uh-oh, I won’t be able to put this down until I’m done reading it. This always feels conflicting; the book is so good I can’t put it down, but also, the faster I read it the sooner I’ll be done. Can’t win. It starts with an author’s note in which she states that the book is not about Mormonism. Sure, I’d heard of Mormonism before. I was thrilled to learn why she stated that on the very first sentence of this book. And this was only the beginning of the introduction of a whole new world to me. After all, she’s only 11 years older than me. I could imagine how different her life could’ve been from mine, but nothing prepared me for what I was about to read next.

Over the years I’ve developed a preference regarding writing styles – sometimes the story can be extremely interesting, however, if the writing isn’t as appealing… you know. It was astonishing to read how she put everything into words so eloquently, but confusing at the same time too. I was reading about a young girl who was homeschooled and at some point the homeschooling stopped altogether, so, how was it possible for her to write this well? I was definitely in for a treat.

It was a mix of a sad story to which there was a light at the end of the tunnel and innocently funny tales at times. For example, she didn’t know her birthday until her mother decided to get her a birth certificate – when she was 9 years old. She was the youngest of 7, so the stories that revolve around the time when she still lived with her parents include a lot of funny, sad, and almost impossible to relate to stories. Her connection to her brother Tyler was something I admired throughout the book. I believe he carried a lot of the weight and responsibility towards shaping Tara’s future, and he served as an inspiration for her to begin her education. As someone who was homeschooled and had almost no proof of her progress – she needed to take the ACTs to get into Brigham Young University. She did not know what a bubble sheet test was at the day of the exam. When she got into BYU, she needed to work twice as hard as anyone to catch up with information that other kids had been exposed to their whole lives. During a quiz she raised her hand to ask her professor a question — “I don’t know this word, what does it mean?”. The word was Holocaust.

She graduated BYU with honors, and went on to pursue a Master’s Degree at the University of Cambridge, after which she attended a PhD program at the University of Cambridge as well and earned a doctorate in intellectual history. Towards the end of the book I was finally starting to get to the answer of my initial question – she’s an awfully well-read person, which probably contributes to her writing style.

Another particularly touching subject throughout the book was her relationship to her brother Shawn, by whom she was abused throughout the years. After many years of him having been away, he returned home when Tara was 17 and had been in a car accident. He put his hands on her neck trying to snap it back into place – without her consent. He was known to be a bully, and this is one of the few cases where he clearly physically abused her. Eventually she confesses to her parents, which resulted in Shawn cutting ties with her completely. This created some division in her family, because her parents sided with Shawn. In relation to her father – she beautifully stated that “You can miss someone everyday and still be glad they’re not in your life.”

When Tara learns how to set boundaries (even with her parents) and let herself to continue growing, she concludes the book in such a manner that brings a large gulp in your throat and makes you reflect for a few minutes after you close the book: “You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.”

As much as a rollercoaster as this book was, it remains an all-time-favorite. Some of my favorite life lessons I’ve read in books, and this particular book was nothing short of brilliant lessons. This book and the author herself have inspired me in ways I cannot measure, and for that I am immensely grateful. To my friends and acquaintances who have taken my suggestion – I hope it moved you as much as it moved me. If you haven’t yet read it, I cannot recommend it enough.

If you’ve read it, here are some questions to spark up a conversation:
1. What was the most impressive part of the book for you?
2. How did you feel about the fact that when Tara was about to give up studying and taking the ACTs, her mom actually pushed her to go through with it?
3. What part of her journey do you relate to the most?
4. Has your perception on what makes an “Education” changed after having read the book?

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