Educated: A Memoir
(Random House, $28)
“Educated is the story of a transformation so courageous, so entire, as to beggar belief,” said Melissa Harrison in the Financial Times. The book’s author, Tara Westover, was raised in a Mormon fundamentalist family so resistant to normal social integration that no birth certificate was issued for her and she didn’t set foot in a school until she left her Idaho home and the family scrapyard at 17. She was by then fleeing an abusive older brother, and she completed her escape by studying on her own for the ACT exam and gaining admission to Brigham Young University. Today, at 31, Westover holds two advanced degrees from Cambridge University and has turned her life story into a “subtle, nuanced” study of how easily a family can normalize dysfunction. To dismiss the book as a misery memoir “would be to do it a great injustice.”
Describing her odd childhood, “Westover is careful to present the good parts with the <bad,” said Sharon Peters in USA Today. Her father was at times tender, and she had the love of two grandparents. But she and her six siblings toiled all day in the scrapyard, were denied doctor’s visits even for severe injuries, and kept “head-for-the-hills” bags near their beds out of fear the government might roll in. When her brother Shawn started beating her, Tara was advised by her mother to tell no one. She wound up following the example of another brother, who’d left years earlier to seek an education. Though during her first class at Brigham Young she had to ask what the Holocaust was, she was soon earning A’s.
“How did this happen?” asked Susan Wise Bauer in The Wall Street Journal. Westover’s self-awareness fails her on this point, leaving us to guess what made her an instant academic star. But it’s telling that she treats as an afterthought the fact that all three Westover children who left home wound up earning Ph.D.s. “Without ever meaning to, Educated suggests something startling: Our children’s intellectual achievement may have almost nothing to do with the opportunities we provide them, and everything to do with some inborn drive that we can neither influence nor create.”