Educated (book)

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Educated: A Memoir
Educated (Tara Westover).png
First edition cover
AuthorTara Westover
Audio read byJulia Whelan
Cover artistPatrik Svensson[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
SubjectMemoir
PublisherRandom House
Publication date
February 18, 2018
Media typePrint (hardcover, paperback), e-book, audiobook
Pages352 pages
Awards2019 Alex Award
ISBN978-0-399-59050-4 (First edition hardcover)
270.092 B
LC ClassCT3262.I2 W47 2018
Websitetarawestover.com/book

Educated: A Memoir is a 2018 memoir by American author Tara Westover, published by Random House on February 18, 2018. The memoir concerns Westover overcoming her survivalist Mormon family to go to college. It details her journey from her isolated life in the mountains of Idaho to getting into the PhD program at Cambridge University. Westover describes her journey of having no formal education to suddenly being in college at the age of seventeen; as well as her struggles to fit into the world her survivalist father created for her and the world beyond the mountains.

As of January 2020, it has spent 97 weeks on The New York Times Non-Fiction Best Seller list.[2] It won a 2019 Alex Award and was shortlisted for the 2019 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award.[3]

Synopsis[edit]

The memoir is told in three parts. The first part describes Westover's birth on Buck's Peak, a mountain in rural Idaho, until the point at which she was accepted at Brigham Young University (BYU). She describes being raised by her parents, Gene and Faye Westover (pseudonyms), and how her father had a strong paranoia of hospitals, the public school system, and the government due to the events of Ruby Ridge. Convinced that the government used the public school system to brainwash children, Tara was homeschooled by her mother and taught the "rhythms of the mountain" by her father. She also describes sneaking away to visit her paternal grandparents, how she did not receive a birth certificate until she was about nine, and how her mother received a serious brain injury that her father refused to get seen by a hospital. Her attempts to attend school or seek normalcy in her life were denied by her father, who would later become depressed when the Y2K apocalypse did not occur and also would refuse to take Westover to the hospital after she received a neck injury from a car accident. Westover's injury is fixed by her estranged brother Shawn and the two initially grow closer, only for Shawn to start physically abusing her and call her a "whore" when she begins growing close with Charles, a boy she met while performing in theater. The abuse is discovered by another of her brothers, Tyler, who encourages her to leave home and to take the ACT so she could apply to BYU. She ultimately succeeds in getting into BYU, as well as growing close again with Shawn after he stands up to their father on her behalf and when she takes Shawn to the hospital after a serious motorcycle accident.

Part two covers Westover's time in BYU until she begins attending school at King's College and receives financial awards that will allow her to remain there. She describes the stress she felt from the pressure of having to maintain her grades in order to keep her scholarship, as well as the issues she runs into due to her alienation from the outside world and lack of formal schooling. She manages to get high enough grades to receive a half-scholarship and Westover reconnects with Charles, with whom she begins a relationship that she cannot act romantically/physically upon because of her conservative upbringing. She also begins to question the abuse she continues to receive from both her father and Shawn, abuse that results in breaking off her relationship with Charles. Meanwhile Shawn begins to date a younger girl, Emily. Westover discovers that one of her teeth is rotting, the pain from which causes her to fall behind in school. She initially refuses any financial assistance from her church and suggestions that she apply for government assistance but later chooses to seek out assistance after returning to Buck's Peak for Christmas. Westover eventually realizes that she no longer sees Buck's Peak as her home and also begins to suspect that her father has bipolar disorder. Attempts to talk to him end with Westover temporarily cutting ties with her father. They reconnect after her father gets into a potentially fatal accident and he expresses interest in her life at school; however, she's dismayed when Shawn proposes to and marries Emily, despite Emily's occasional fear of him. Though some of her more conservative friends discourage her from pursuing the fields of history and politics, Westover confides in her Jewish History professor Dr. Paul Kerry about her entire past. Dr. Kerry encourages her to apply for the study abroad program at the University of Cambridge. After arriving at King's College, Tara is assigned to work with Professor Jonathan Steinberg who, along with Dr. Kerry, encourages her to graduate school from either Cambridge or Harvard, especially because Steinberg would take care of all her fees. Despite some initial self-doubt, Westover applies for and wins the Gates Scholarship. She also makes a temporary truce with her father, as the two had a falling out over how she spoke about her past to local newspapers and news outlets and choosing to go to school in England. Her father states that if/when the End Days arrive, her family wouldn't be able to save her if she was in England.

Part three covers Westover's life in Cambridge and her life after successfully graduating with a PhD. During this time she becomes more interested in feminism and discovers Bob Marley's "Redemption Song", which prompts her to learn that Marley died after refusing traditional medicine, which then convinces her to finally get her vaccinations. She occasionally returns to Buck's Peak, where she discovers that Shawn is still abusing Emily and that her sister Audrey was aware of her abuse, but that their mother did not believe her. This results in Westover and her mother emailing each other and her mother referencing the possibility that her father has a mental illness, as well as saying that she and her father are going to get help for Shawn. On another trip she learns that her mother's essential oil business, something she had gotten after her accident and believed was responsible for Westover's father surviving the near fatal accident, has grown large and powerful. Westover also learns from Audrey that no one believed them about Shawn's abuse and her sister begs her to stay, only for Westover to leave to resume school at Cambridge. On her next trip to see her family Shawn briefly shows signs that he could be changing, only for him to later accuse Audrey of lying and threatening to kill her. Westover's attempts to tell her parents about Shawn's threat on Audrey's life are not taken seriously. They inform her that Shawn wants to speak with her over what she's said and Shawn brings with him a bloody knife that Westover later discovers he used to kill his family's dog while his son watched. Terrified of what he would do, Westover lies and claims that her father lied about what was said. She also later realizes that her mother had never been on her or Audrey's side. After returning to England Shawn makes a threat to Westover's life and her parents begin to deny the existence of the knife. Her sister Audrey also cuts Tara out of her life, as she is now going to forgive Shawn and believes that Westover was being controlled by Satan, making her realize that she has now lost her whole family. Eventually Westover begins school at Harvard and her parents briefly visit her, during which time they unsuccessfully try to re-convert her to their lifestyle. This causes her to enter a deep depression that causes her to skip classes and have night terrors, leading her to return to Buck's Peak. Once there she discovers a series of emails between her mother and one of Shawn's ex-girlfriends, whom Westover had spoken to while trying to come to terms with Shawn's abuse and believed to be supportive of her. The emails instead show that Westover is being delusional and demonizing Shawn, which cause her to realize that she is now completely different from her family. She returns to Harvard and eventually returns to England, where she has panic attacks and emails her parents stating that she was cutting them out of her life for a year till she got a handle again. She begins failing her PhD program, however a series of emails from her brother Tyler to Westover and their parents where he supports her and condemns their treatment cause her to get her life back together and successfully graduate with her PhD. Years later Westover returns to Idaho for her maternal grandmother's funeral, where she is reunited with Tyler and his wife, as well two of her maternal aunts. She is also reunited with her siblings, most of whom still take their father and Shawn's side. At the end of the book Westover states that she is only in contact with a few of her family members and that she has finally accepted that she needed to be away from the mountain to live in peace, as well as not feel guilty for taking care of herself over her family.

People featured in the book[edit]

Westover Family[edit]

  • Tara Westover: Writer of memoir and protagonist. Tara was born in Idaho, homeschooled till she was seventeen before she took the ACT and got into college.
  • Gene Westover (pseudonym): Tara's father, a man of paranoia. Although he encouraged his children to learn, he did not believe in the public education system or even doctors. He owns a scrapyard in Idaho that scraps for metals.
  • Faye Westover (pseudonym): Tara's mother, a midwife and herbal specialist. Faye was raised in a prim home and married Gene as a way to escape that lifestyle. She teaches her children at home.
  • Tyler Westover: Tara's older brother, the third brother of the seven siblings. Tyler is the first to go to college, and he is the one who encourages and convinces Tara to take the ACT. He is also the first of her family to stand firmly by her side against her parents and Shawn.
  • Shawn Westover (pseudonym): Tara's older brother, the second brother of the siblings. Shawn is overprotective of Tara's virtue and very similar to their father. Was physically, mentally and emotionally abusive towards Tara, and later on his wife. Suffered a major head injury.
  • Richard Westover: Tara's older brother, fifth of the brothers. Richard remains loyal to the Mormon religion, but eventually gives up his family's isolation and marries while pursuing a higher education.
  • Luke Westover: Tara's older brother, the fourth brother. Luke is depicted as the brother who caught fire in the scrapyard and Tara had to help her mother nurse him back to health.
  • Audrey Westover (pseudonym): Tara's only (older) sister. She helps her mother with her herbal business. Tara and Audrey were never very close, however, they both stand together when they tell their mother about Shawn's abuse he inflicted on both of them. Audrey later goes on to cut Tara out of her life so she doesn't get disowned by their parents.
  • Tony Westover: Tara's oldest brother, first of the siblings. Tony is not really mentioned in the memoir, except that he helps his father in the scrapyard.
  • Grandma-down-the-hill: Gene's mother. She often disagrees with Gene about how he is raising his children, she encourages Tara to get an education and to escape so she can live a normal life.
  • Grandma-over-in-town: Faye's mother. A very prim and proper woman who Tara didn't really connect with when she was growing up. She doesn't approve of Gene and had an estranged relationship with Faye after she married Gene.
  • Aunt Debbie: Faye's estranged sister. After Tara distanced herself from her family, Debbie accepted Tara and Tyler with open arms, and even helps Tara get her passport so she can study abroad.
  • Aunt Angie: Faye's other estranged sister. Angie was outcasted from the family after filing for unemployment from the government after being fired from the family business, this caused Gene to think that Angie was trying to put him on a government watchlist.

Other major people[edit]

  • Charles: Tara's first "boyfriend". Clouded by Tara's fathers teachings, Tara is never able to get intimate with Charles. She ends up distancing herself from him when Shawn's abuse gets worse and he tries to tell her that Shawn's behavior wasn't normal. They remain friends to this day.
  • Drew: Tara's boyfriend boyfriend during the third part of the memoir. He is the first boyfriend that she actually reveals the truth about her family and her upbringing.
  • Professor Steinberg: Tara's supervisor when she studies abroad at Cambridge. He is fascinated with Tara's background, and works hard to make sure she succeeds in her schooling.
  • Dr. Kerry: A professor of Tara's at BYU. He helps get Tara a spot in the study abroad program to Cambridge, and encourages/supports her in her academic career.
  • Professor Jonathan Steinberg: An advisor of Tara's at Cambridge. He is known for his writings on the Holocaust and takes an interest in Tara's education.
  • Erin: One of Shawn's ex-girlfriends. Tara reaches out to her in hopes she will help corroborate Tara's timeline of Shawn's abuse. While she "helps" Tara, she also is communicating with Faye about how Tara is "demonizing" Shawn.
  • Sadie: Another one of Shawn's ex-girlfriends. She is one of the first people mentioned in the memoir who experienced Shawn's psychological abuse.
  • Robin: Tara's second-year roommate. She helps Tara adjust to living in a home of strangers as well as life outside the mountain.
  • Emily Westover: Shawn's wife. Almost a decade younger than Shawn, Westover describes her as being a "compliant" person, and predicts that their marriage will be violent and manipulative.
  • Stefanie Westover: Tyler's wife. She is a big help to Tyler's transition into the world outside the mountain. She stands with Tyler when Tyler confronts his parents about Shawn's abuse towards Tara.
  • Kami Westover: Richard's wife.
  • Benjamin: Audrey's husband.

Background[edit]

Westover has stated that if she had not left for college, "There wasn't ever any question about what my future would look like: I would get married when I was 17 or 18, and I would be given some corner of the farm and my husband would put a house on it and we would have kids".[4] Westover went on to study at Brigham Young University and then on to get her PhD at Cambridge. She has since been estranged from most of her family since the release of her memoir. In an interview she states, "What broke us was not me going to college against my father’s will or even leaving home to go to Cambridge. It was me speaking openly about my brother Shawn being violent and abusive to me".[5] Since then she has gone on to spread her success story as to encourage others to go to college.[5]

Reception[edit]

Educated has received both praise and criticism from critics. It has been featured on multiple book lists such as President Barack Obama's Favorite Books of the Year list and Bill Gate's Book Blog,[3][6] and was on the The New York Times's list of the best books of 2018.[7] Writing for The New York Times, Alec MacGillis wrote favorably of the book, as they felt that the telling was "alluring and harrowing".[8] Former First Lady Michelle Obama has also praised the work and recommended it to others such as Ellen Degeneres, who later interviewed Westover.[9][10]

Common criticisms over the book centered upon questions about the book's accuracy and her parents' attorney has stated that "Her parents raised their family in what Tara described as an extremist mindset, but what they felt was self-sufficiency" and that there is only a "little germ of truth". Their attorney has further noted that her parents feel hurt that Westover would ever make such a book that slanders against her upbringing, and that she would ever accuse her brother [Shawn] of the abuse described in the book.[11] In his review for The Federalist, Tony Daniel questioned the veracity of Westover's claims, noting that "Tara Westover lays out the assertion that she did it all in spite of her upbringing, not because of it. Yet the evidence she presents might just as well support the opposite of this claim. Her narrative is selective, perhaps of necessity given that her theme is to expose her brother and her parents as at best neglectful and mean, and at worst crazed and sadistic."[12] Psychologist Goali Saedi Bocci reviewed Educated on the Psychology Today website after finding that there were a lot of mixed reviews on Amazon about whether or not the book was more fact than fiction. Bocci states that while some parts of the book might be exaggerated it cannot be denied that Westover lived a "deeply troubling childhood whose lasting impact simply cannot be denied".[13]

Awards[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Tara Westover (February 20, 2018). Educated: A Memoir. Random House Publishing Group. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-399-59051-1.
  2. ^ "Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction - Best Sellers". The New York Times. January 12, 2020. Retrieved January 7, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d "Book". Tara Westover. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
  4. ^ "Memoirist Retraces Her Journey From Survivalist Childhood To Cambridge Ph.D." NPR.org. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
  5. ^ a b O'Kelly, Lisa (2018-02-17). "Tara Westover: 'In families like mine there is no crime worse than telling the truth.'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
  6. ^ Gates, Bill (December 3, 2018). "A conversation with Bill Gates and Tara Westover". YouTube.
  7. ^ "The 10 Best Books of 2018". The New York Times. 2018-11-29. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
  8. ^ MacGillis, Alec (2018-03-01). "Review: 'Educated,' by Tara Westover". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-18.
  9. ^ "Michelle Obama: By the Book". The New York Times. 2018-12-06. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
  10. ^ The Ellen Degeneres Show (March 14, 2019). "Author Tara Westover's Incredible Story About Leaving Her Strict Survivalist Family". YouTube.
  11. ^ Citizen, Necia P. Seamons The Preston. "'Educated' should be read with grain of salt, says family's attorney". The Herald Journal. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
  12. ^ Daniel, Tony (2019-03-22). "Don't Trash Your Homeschooling, Anti-Medicine Mormon Family". The Federalist. Retrieved 2019-12-18.
  13. ^ "A Psychologist's Take on Tara Westover's Memoir, Educated". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
  14. ^ LaScala, Marisa (2019-05-21). "20 Insanely Captivating Memoirs to Read Right Now". Good Housekeeping. Retrieved 2019-12-18.
  15. ^ "2019 Indies Choice and E.B. White Read-Aloud Award Winners Announced". the American Booksellers Association. 2019-05-01. Retrieved 2019-12-18.
  16. ^ a b "5 Wins for PRH Audio at the 2019 Audie Awards". PRH. Retrieved 2019-12-18.
  17. ^ "Hudson Group Announces Its Best Books of 2018". Hudson Group. Retrieved 2019-12-18.
  18. ^ HCHO (2019-01-28). "YALSA announces 2019 Alex Awards". ALA News and Press Center. Retrieved 2019-12-18.