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Educated: A Memoir – Tara Westover

(March 2018) “I am not the child my father raised. But he is the father who raised her.”

A gripping memoir. From the opening passage to the final sentence, I was pulling for Tara Westover to make it.

Raised in a Mormon family in Idaho that eschewed modern medicine, public education and was deeply fearful of the government, Tara did herself and the world a great favor by keeping journals from a very early age. The word that kept flashing in my brain throughout this book was “gaslighting.” She was constantly being made to feel that SHE WAS THE CRAZY ONE by her family – her parents, her siblings and the larger Mormon community.

Despite never having attended school at all (nor having the “homeschooling” her parents claimed to provide), she managed to enroll in Brigham Young University based on her high ACT score at the age of 17. From that point, she was fortunate to connect with people who recognized her ability and wanted to help her to realize her potential. Those professors and mentors kept opening doors that she walked through to claim her future.

At the same time, she kept striving to remain a member of her nuclear family.

I never knew what would happen next. It is an emotional rollercoaster. Keeping a journal turned out to be central to this memoir. All of us have faulty memories. It’s hard to be accurate in hindsight when intervening events color our memories of the past. Having a contemporary account of what happened in the immediate aftermath of traumatic events provided a more reliable witness to her life.

Perhaps I’m just particularly drawn to memoirs of strong women these days. Tara’s internal struggles to reconcile her life with her desire to stay connected to her family reminded me of Emily Nunn’s memoir The Comfort Food Diaries which addressed similar issues. (Both authors changed the names of their immediate family members to protect their privacy.) Where does our commitment to our family begin, and end, when it impacts our ability to live a full and healthy life?

I would highly recommend this book. It is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit in the most difficult circumstances. Our history does not dictate our future. Our origination story is not the only story. We can write a narrative for ourselves that accepts that where we have come from is only part of who we are. Our “self” is in our heads. We do have choices. And self preservation is the choice we have to make first.