Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover

About the book:

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 thoughts:

While reading this story, I had immediate emotions but often times they were fleeting on particular themes as I read through the pages. My opinions vary on Tara’s family dynamics, her lack of formal education to being accepted at one of the most prestigious college in the world is strange to me. Not only that, but her troubles weren’t adding up. I guess I mean to say is that in context, her explaining or telling of trauma, oftentimes wasn’t making much sense. I understand that memories can be tricky and that is one of the reasons why when one reads memoirs, one must take that into account. After-all, when a situation evolving several people, you’ll often times come across different perspectives. Therein lies the problem I was having on the direction I wanted to go with this review. That said, after talking over it with a friend, I decided to direct my attention to the family’s or in Tara’s case, idea of what is a survivalist.

The Merriam-Webster definition of a survivalist: a person who advocates or practices survivalism.

especially: one who has prepared to survive in the anarchy of an anticipated breakdown of society…

More times than not, I hear people say or I read on social media that survivalists are nothing but a bunch of paranoid conspiracy theorist nuts. That couldn’t be further from the truth and in the case of Tara’s family, they’re not survivalists and I will get to why they’re not in the truest sense, shortly.

Life can throw many curve balls as we all should know by now but many choose to ignore! To name a few….

Weather: Hurricanes, ice and snow storms, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, mudslides, droughts, and so on…
Power outages
Loss of job and income
A sudden disability or injury
A neighbor or community in need.
Nuclear war or war in general. – Though I doubt the US would be nuked because our natural resources in this country are too valuable. An EMP is more likely. Just thinking out loud here.
Food and medical supply shortages
Wildfires
Inflation
EMPS
Economic recession or a great depression.

The reality is that you cannot fully depend on the government, their response time to crisis or the infrastructure as a whole to take care of you, nor should you. Consumers who are solely dependent on the establishment will not survive if the infrastructure fails and it is a real possibility that it will happen.

I believe our pioneers, even our living relatives that lived through the depression era in the early twentieth century, would look on us with disappointment and how spoiled, dependent and brainwashed we’ve become. Don’t mistake my harsh words as unkindness or a negative outlook on life but look at it as a teachable moment of awareness.  

Self-reliance is to be admired and it takes a lot of know-how, courage and strength to be thus. So, let’s get out of the mind set, if you’re a survivalist who lives off the grid as much as possible, or that you do for yourself and family, that you must be some uneducated extremist or belong to a cult. Some of the most intelligent and well-read, highly educated, level-headed people I know are survivalists. Also, there is a widely misconception that survivalists and preppers only live off grid and do not seek medical attention at hospitals or clinics. You’d be surprised on how many live in highly populated areas such as suburbs, cities and are actively participates in society.

Marginalizing survivalists or dismissing the need for self-sustaining or readiness and choosing not to be prepared for any type of emergency is a special brand of ignorance and dangerous to say the least. A good way to look at prepping, or having an emergency plan and knowing how to survive when the tough gets going is another form of insurance you shouldn’t go without.

The survivalists, in the truest sense, main priority is the well-being of their person and their love ones. We did not see this in Tara’s family’s case. Tara’s father does not fit the mold of a true survivalist, nor did he take into consideration the health, safety and education of his family. He was reckless, controlling, neglectful, abusive, narcissistic and sorely misguided and unwise in quite a few of areas. While a few of his beliefs about government, mistrust of the medical industry has merit, his reaction to them and how he dealt with it or lack of, is dysfunctional, toxic, dangerous and it is shown throughout the story.

There are too many shocking situations in this story to name and every single person’s role in this story left an unsettlingly feeling with me. Despite my misgivings, I’m glad I read this story and learned a great deal from it.

A big thank you to Lisl for sending me this book to read. It was quite an experience!

Stephanie Hopkins

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