Friday, March 9, 2018

Educated: A Memoir


I received a free digital copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 Stars

This memoir tells an incredible tale, one you would not even believe had we not heard of similar situations in the past. I am still struggling to grasp how someone who had no formal education until college could write something so well. Westover taught herself all she needed to until she was able to apply for college, being accepted to Brigham Young. It was not until age seventeen that she learned of major world events like the Holocaust. Given the fact that her family was far removed from society, scratching out a living on the mountain by salvaging metal from her father's junkyard and assisting her mother's midwifery work, survivalism is all the author ever knew. Despite the increasing violence of one of her brothers as he targeted her, going so far as to force her head-first into the toilet for some perceived slight, to Westover, Buck'sPeak was home.

I could not put this book down. It was literally a struggle for me to do so. But, once having finished the book, it has taken a while for me to fully comprehend what I read and to decompress from it. I can not even fully grasp how she must feel, to this day. Her childhood was both idyllic (the freedom to roam whenever so inclined) and a nightmare (no schooling, no doctor/medicine, a psychotic brother). She loves her family fiercely even as they continue to reject her since she left. I can't even reconcile them, it seems impossible.

We see her religious fanatic of a father, ruling the the family with an iron fist. He has taught his children to distrust anything from the government. As a result they hoard weapons and food for the coming Days of Abomination, while foregoing things we consider standard parts of civilization - birth certificates, medical care, public schooling. As the story went on, and terrible accident after terrible accident occurred I kept thinking, surely this is the time they will HAVE to seek medical treatment. Yet it never happened, despite car accidents, explosions, and all sorts of mishaps that no one else would bat an eye at for going to the emergency room. Yet it was always Tara's mother to the rescue with her herbs and tinctures. So many times I wanted to scream at her parents, to make them see what they were doing to their children, but even if I did, and they could hear me, nothing would change. Not only is Tara's father one to be feared, but one of her older brothers as well. His violence increased rapidly over time and Tara bore the brunt of it. He could have killed her more than once, and no one in her family would have said a word. That is terrifying and heartbreaking and infuriating. How many other children are living through the same situation now, and how many will not be able to make it out like Westover did? There are times also where we see a glimmer of who her mother might have been had she not married Tara's father. While she defers to him almost always, there are these slivers of time where it appears she too might break free. But the moments are fleeting and do not come along often.

I can not for one moment fathom how Westover could even want to have a relationship with any of the family members still living on Buck Peak. The bond was so strong in her youth, from her days on the mountain, that it causes her time and again to want to be a part of the family while keeping her new life as well. And perhaps it is also something I do not necessarily even need to understand for myself. The things that happen in this book defy believability at every turn, and yet they all survive. And even while she was out discovering the real world, the call of the mountain, her family, her home remained strong. This is certainly not a criticism of her and I hope it is not taken that way. I just can't understand it and I admire her for trying to reconcile both portions of her life today. It would be so easy for Westover to renounce it all and go back to the mountain; she loves her family deeply. But she also knows now that there is a whole wide world out there. I don't know if those two pieces will ever fit together for her. I hope they will. One of the hardest parts of the book for me was specifically with her mother, begging her to see, and her mother refusing. There was a brief time where it seemed like Westover was getting through to her mother and sister, and then suddenly everything went back to the way it had always been.That was awful to read, so heartbreaking.

Even so, despite all the brutality and shock of Westover's education both before she left and after, this is an important book and one I highly recommend.

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