I know that this is hard to believe, but there’s a reason why truth is stranger than fiction. With fiction, an author can make stuff up while getting into a character’s mind and analyze their actions. Truth doesn’t permit one to do that. When composing nonfiction, authors have to write about what actually happened, and sometimes what occurred can appear to be unbelievable. This was my mindset when reading Educated by Tara Westover – a memoir about her life growing up in a Mormon-survivalist family in Idaho and her education. Even though I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, it was a powerful, well written book that shows what education can be and the costs of getting one.
Specifically, Educated is a coming-of-age story about a woman who was born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho and her education. When Tara is 17, she steps into a classroom for the first time in her life since her father didn’t want her and her siblings to go to school. Over many years, she obtains degrees from Brigham Young University and Cambridge University, but it comes at the cost of severing ties with her fierce family.
Throughout the memoir, I couldn’t believe what had happened to the author and her family. They were mostly isolated from society to the point that along with school, she didn’t see a doctor until she went to college. There were a couple of instances where I literally thought that certain characters should have been dead after accidents in the junkyard and even an explosion. What makes this work is that Westover states these incidents and others in a matter of fact way. It’s clear that she has pondered what has happened to her a lot, no matter how good or bad it really was.
Speaking of that, because this book deals a lot with abuse, some readers have certain expectations of how it should be handled like how the person being mistreated should not act passive at all in the face of it. When Westover talks about this, especially at the hands of one of her older brothers, she recalls that she had to go along with it, so he wouldn’t hurt her further. She even blamed herself for it, so she could have control of the situation. She yearned for power so much that she treated her boyfriend at that time like crap. In hindsight, she realizes that none of that was healthy.
In fact, Westover portrays her family with respect and frankness. In a way, she admires her parents for being self-sufficient and even mostly supportive of her schooling, but at the same time, she wishes that they, especially her dad, would be more protective, especially with the van accidents and her brother’s abuse. I’d imagine how hard it would be to have parents who unknowingly put their children into danger and put their own values in front of supporting them. It’s this balance that makes the book easier to get through.
Another thing that Educated does well is that it keeps readers on their toes. If the book was at a calming point, then it would immediately hit you with another tragic event. I remember thinking to myself, “Tara can never catch a break, can she?”
Even at the very end of the book, I wanted to know how she was doing and whether or nor her family had come to terms with the abuse. Hence, I’ve been reading and watching plenty of interviews. SPOILERS: she’s fine, but her family has not. Even two of her siblings have written one-star reviews of her book on Goodreads.
Reading Educated also made me think of The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah. It too contained a lot of death experiences and abuse, but the difference is that the latter is fiction, therefore it was able to spare readers from the continuing horror, especially with the mom shooting the dad in the back after he was abusing the daughter. Although both moms were pretty subservient to a certain point, I’m pretty convinced that Tara’s mom would never have the courage to stand up against her husband.
Another connection that Educated has with The Great Alone is that both audiobooks are narrated by Julia Whelan. As I mentioned in my review of the latter, Whelan had won a lot of awards for voicing the former title, and I can see why. She matches the matter-of-fact tone of the memoir perfectly. When it comes to the voicing, she does a commendable job. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t paying that much attention to the voicing this time because the focus was primarily on Westover, so I actually let it slide if some of the characters sounded quite similar. However, I noticed that some of the male characters had plenty of vocal distinctions, something that I thought Whelan could have done better with the The Great Alone audiobook. For example, the dad and the brothers were voiced with a similar gruffness to the dad in The Great Alone, while Westover’s professors at BYU and Cambridge had more worried and refined voices. Whelan definitely deserved those awards.
Educated by Tara Westover is a highly inspirational book that might be hard to get through for some people. It’s very balanced in its viewpoints and will keep readers on their toes. I would definitely recommend it to those who haven’t already read it. Just a quick warning: please take breaks while reading it.
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