Educated, Tara Westover


I cannot remember talking more about a book while reading it than I did with Tara Westover’s Educated, the phenomenally successful memoir of growing up in a fundamentalist Mormon household in rural Ohio and escaping to study at Cambridge, achieving this despite the fact she never attended school. Westover’s parents mistrusted both education and almost anything which intervened in their isolated life and direct relationship with god.

This isn’t a book about passing exams. Westover is the youngest of six siblings and grew up preparing for the End of Days. Her violent and mentally ill father has buried enough gas under their land to get them all home and keep them safe once the apocalypse hits. All of the children are forced to work on her his deathtrap junkyard. I couldn’t stop exclaiming out loud, as annoying as that is for anyone in earshot, at the terrifying experiences Westover’s father put her family through, from refusing medical care after various car crashes, including one in which her mother sustains a lifelong brain injury, to setting a brother and himself on fire. Both parents facilitate and hide long-term physical and emotional abuse within the family.

We all love a peek into hidden communities, but you’re unlikely to find as many revelations in any other memoir. I won’t give too many spoilers. While you’re likely to find the first few instances of cruelty shocking, the tempo ramps up with every page and to get a handle on Westover’s storytelling skill you need to pace these words yourself, re-read them, sound them out and probably, like me, tell someone about them to fully digest their truth. And they are largely true, as Westover kept diaries and has rigorously fact-checked the book, a section at the end which makes as compulsive reading as the rest.

Her escape is incredible. Harder to take is that she still loves her parents. She doesn’t believe her father put them in danger maliciously, and she became strong, self-sufficient, a warrior because of everything she endured as a child. Even odder is how recent this all is, she was born in 1986. Educated was published in 2018 and there is plenty online to listen to and read about Westover and her bizarre family after you’ve finished it - you’ll need these resources to process it all, but I recommend you read the book first.

Educated is published by Cornerstone (£9.99) but I read my copy on Kindle for 99p