By Chloe Holt
Firstly, Educated by Tara Westover is a brilliant book. It is autobiographical yet written in the narrative of a fictional story, making it is easy follow and easy to forget that this is her life. Raised in the mountains of Idaho, Westover belonged to a strictly Mormon family – a family who actively hated and distrusted the government as well as medical and education systems. It’s really hard to liken yourself to an author who technically didn’t ‘exist’ (in the governmental sense) until the age of eleven, and yet you are able to really sympathise for her.
Westover gives us an insight into the dynamics of Mormon life and how haphazard her family appeared to be. Her father, the leader of their skewed attitudes can only be described as baffling. He clearly loves his family and adores his wife, yet does not hesitate to put them at risk in order to maintain the family income from scrapping metal, or just to prove a point. Westover recounts the time she fell a great height from a crane and the time her brother caught on fire; both times they were refused hospital treatment. It seems like a complete detachment from society and from what’s normal but, if you’ve never been exposed to what we have, how could you criticise it?
As a writer, Westover knows how to make you like, hate and feel pity for the different members of her family – much like the heroes and villains in fiction – and all the while you’re hoping that her family support and champion her in the same way that you are. Her journey from scrapping metal to achieving a PhD from Cambridge without having legitimate education until late adolescence is admirable and, frankly, puts the rest of us to shame. If she can do that then why am I so close to dropping out of University every five seconds when my life is pretty settled in comparison? Her determination to achieve something which would make most families proud, except for hers, is infectious and is a really good motivator if you feel as though you’ve hit the wall.
The most bizarre thing is the subtle reminders that these are real people and her real life. I looked up the family members on Facebook once I’d finished the book and it was difficult putting faces to the names and, more importantly, their actions. What struck me most was the disparity between her upbringing and the other Mormon students she discusses from her time at Brigham Young University. Used to dressing in her brothers’ hand-me-downs and only showing skin on her neck and face, she is so indoctrinated by the belief that ‘more skin = whore’ that she struggles to even attend church for fear of seeing girls’ shoulders. Not only is it a book which simply celebrates Tara Westover as a person, but it also documents her struggles with adapting to what we may take for granted. Her in-depth knowledge of the Second Coming leaves her falling short of historical milestones such as the Holocaust – to which she is mortified when she realises her unintentional ignorance.
Distressing, discomforting and at times very emotional, it is so worth reading. Such a page-turner and so engrossing that I read it in a matter of days and wanted to read it again afterwards. I’ve told all of my friends to pick it up and now I’m putting my opinion on a platform: READ THIS BOOK. It’s a great way to detach yourself from your own life for a while and when you return to it you have a new found appreciation of the life you have, even if it is just an appreciation of understanding social etiquette.