Book Review: EDUCATED by Tara Westover


Beth Shapiro shares her thoughts on one of our bestselling titles, EDUCATED by Tara Westover:

“The premise of Tara Westover’s memoir Educated is straight-forward: A child raised by an isolated, religiously zealous, survivalist family amazingly goes on to study at Harvard and Cambridge.  The possibility of obtaining an intimate portrayal of such an unusual journey certainly will appeal to readers’ voyeuristic tendencies.  In addition to being able to tell a good story, however, Westover also possesses the power to encourage readers both to question themselves and to examine broader issues.

Glimpses into the author’s family reveal tendencies at odds with typical societal norms.  Massive annual summer canning in preparation for religious end-times leads to a friend asking, “Does your house always smell…like rotted plants?  You must have smelled it.  It was strong.  I’ve smelled it before.  On you.  You always smell of it.” Homeschooling--in name only--means that at age 16 Westover has never taken an exam before the ACT, where she encounters “strange pink sheets I’d never seen before”—bubble sheets. And mistrust in doctors consistently results in no medical treatment after disastrous accidents. 

Characters, however, do not automatically meet preconceptions and are portrayed with complexity.  Westover’s father, for example, can easily solve trigonometry equations unconventionally.  While often agreeing with her husband’s paranoid notions, her mother nonetheless independently starts up a successful home business. 

With frequent references to the mountain of her Idaho childhood home, Westover highlights events, situations, and individuals that influence the move away from her upbringing and that spark the formation of her self-identity.  “I am not the child my father raised, but he is the father who raised her,” she shares. Readers invariably will wonder how they personally might have handled such circumstances.  Additionally, book club readers will discover numerous topics for discussion: What constitutes abuse? What defines parental/filial love? How does mental illness affect families? 

Riveting and thought-provoking, Educated invites readers into an unfamiliar world that reveals beauty, horror, struggle, and resolution.”