Narrator: Julia Whelan
Published by Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group on February 20, 2018
Length: 12 hours 10 minutes
Tara Westover was 17 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 in her father's junkyard.
Her father forbade hospitals, 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 one of Tara's older brothers became violent.
Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important 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. 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 with severing the closest of 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.
My top thoughts:
I read this in 2019 and it STILL tops my list of great books – I recommend it frequently. Yet, somehow I’ve never reviewed it on the blog. Time to remedy that!
What I liked/didn’t like:
As someone raised in a cult, this book seriously resonated with me. In many ways, my family/religious upbringing almost sounds sane compared to Tara’s. But the principles, the abuse, the neglect, the insanity of it – that was so familiar. I read the first part very slowly and took breaks from it – I thought I wasn’t enjoying the book, but I realized as I got to the second half, when Tara starts breaking free and finding herself through education, that it was just too uncomfortable and brought back memories I couldn’t deal with in huge doses.
The second half though, wow! I read that so fast and here I identified almost 100%. I was fortunate enough to not have suffered the homeschooling that Tara did, but was otherwise similarly lost and confused as I navigated undergrad and grad school. I battled with a lot of the same self-deprecating thoughts and doubts. I struggled with reconciling what I was learning with the family I was losing through that education. And while I didn’t quite achieve the PhD she did, I came close, and like her, the awakening that education provided me cost me most my family. It was amazing to read someone else going through that same kind of rebirth, despite coming from a very different cult experience.
I think the title – Educated – couldn’t be more perfect. I saw it in myself and I’ve seen it with others who have escaped cult life. Education is the key. You get educated and it helps you to see the cult for what it is. I couldn’t recommend this book more, I enjoyed it so much!
Oh and the narration was great. I thought for sure it was Sophie Eastlake narrating, but it turns out it was Julia Whelan. I was so sure, I didn’t even look it up. So IDK if they are the same person, but I enjoyed her narration (even though at the time it felt a little weird to have the voice of Chicagoland Vampires narrating something so serious).