It’s been a while since I’ve read (or listened) to a book that moved me as much as Educated did. The story of Tara Westover is one of the most heart-warming, thought-provoking stories I’ve ever read, and I have found myself telling anyone and everyone who will listen that they have to pick up this book. It’s so good.
Description of Educated: A Memoir
Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills” bag. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged metal in her father’s junkyard.
Her father distrusted the medical establishment, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when an older brother became violent.
When another brother got himself into college and came back with news of the world beyond the mountain, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. She taught herself enough mathematics, grammar, and science to take the ACT and was admitted to Brigham Young University. There, she studied psychology, politics, philosophy, and history, learning for the first time about pivotal world events like the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.
Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes from severing one’s closest ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.
Negative Reviews of Educated: A Memoir
At the time I’m writing this, there are 2,455 reviews of Educated on Amazon, an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars. There’s no question that this book is hitting bestselling lists, winning awards, and receiving amazing reviews. However, there are quite a few disbelievers out there — people who think the stories told in the memoir were embellished or fabricated. And why wouldn’t people question the authenticity of the stories? Some really terrible things happened to Westover and her siblings throughout the years. Things that many people wouldn’t have survived and things that are so terrible you find yourself hoping and praying they’re untrue.
And then there is the history of fake memoirs. Anyone remember A Million Little Pieces by James Frey? Or maybe you remember Oprah recommending this memoir in 2005 to her TV Book Club, catapulting the book into the bestseller lists, only to later discover that Frey lied. A lot!
However, I tend to lean toward the idea that Westover was telling the story of her upbringing in a most raw and truthful way that she knew how. There were many accounts of events that she admitted not remembering the facts like her siblings had, but that she pieced the timeline together the best she could from her own memories.
I also think that, in this day and age, writers are not going to easily get away with fabricating a nonfiction account of their life. With the internet, the the mob mentality of social media, and news outlets always ready and willing to pounce on a story, Westover’s publisher would vet Westover and her story thoroughly before ever printing word one.
So, I tend to lean heavily into the camp that believes Westover, and I stand by my opinion that this is a well-written and heart-wrenching story of a life I’m having trouble even imagining. And I applaud the author for her strength in becoming the woman she fought to become.
My Views as a Fiction Author
I can’t read a book like this without imagining what the author’s life must be like now. What did an upbringing like she endured and the education that she fought for do to her as a person? What kind of person is she in real life? Now that she is a grown woman, a published author, and someone who, I assume, has gone through hours, months, years of therapy, who is she?
And as I imagine who this person is in real life, I start to form a picture in my head — a picture that is most likely way off the mark of who Tara Westover really is. I mean, I don’t know her. I only know the story she wanted us to know. That’s what memoirs are. They’re truth, but they’re also only a portion of the truth.
I’ve been thinking about a new idea for a book — a romantic thriller. And in the early stages of developing this idea — before I had even started Educated — I had a character in my head with a sad, dark past. And as I listened to Educated, I began to alter my character slightly. I hadn’t developed my character’s story deeply enough, and just hearing the horrible things that Westover endured helped me deepen my own characterization of the fictional story I was brewing.
That’s what memoirs like Educated do for me as fictional author. They make me think about lives so very different from the one I have known. A well-written memoir, such as Educated, gives me insight into many, many different types of people. From Westover to her father to her mother to her siblings. They all played an incredible part in Westover’s childhood and made her who she is. For me, as a novelist, reading books like this make me think about how my characters must also play parts in the lives of the other characters.
I strongly recommend that you pick up a copy of Educated the first chance you get. It will give you great insight into how one woman overcame great obstacles to become an educated, strong woman despite little resources or support system.
Have you read Educated: A Memoir? Would love to hear your thoughts?
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