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Monday, October 14, 2019

Educated a Fascinating, Compelling Memoir

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Born to survivalist parents, Tara Westover became the seventh child in a very unconventional family.  Although her parents were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they embraced their own extreme, fanatical version of the religion.  Living in a remote corner of Idaho, she and her siblings ran wild, helping their father sort scrap metal and prepare the family for the imminent end of the world.  Because the Westovers did not believe in modern medicine or the need for schooling, their brood received neither.  Even life-threatening wounds were treated only with natural remedies and prayer.  Mind-boggling ignorance about world history, current affairs, literature, science, and mathematics?  Ignored altogether.  Possessing a keen mind and a curiosity that wouldn't quit, Tara made the courageous decision to leave home in order to pursue an education.  She entered her first classroom ever as a 17-year-old college freshman.  Although at that point she knew little about even basic academic concepts, she went on to earn an undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University as well as an MPhil and PhD from Cambridge.

How Westover evolved from a feral, resourceless child to an ambitious, devoted scholar at prestigious universities is the subject of her first book, a memoir entitled Educated.  Her story is a testament to the power of education and the ability of an eager mind to triumph in even the grimmest situations.  It's also a coming-of-age tale about stepping out of a sheltered childhood into the alarming world of adulthood and subsequently trying to determine who you really are, what you actually believe, and where you truly belong.  The exploration of these intriguing themes make Educated a fascinating book and yet, it didn't blow me away like I expected it to due to all the accolades it has received.  It's raw and powerful for sure, but for me, at least, it ended up being a good read, not a great one.  

Why didn't Educated resonate with me as much as it has with so many other readers?  I think because (1) I found it more depressing than empowering, (2) it made me feel defensive of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (even though Westover insists this is not a book about Mormonism, it kinda is), and (3) Westover seemed to suggest that a person could not be both religious and educated, a stance with which I vehemently disagree.  Despite these hang-ups, though, I did find Educated interesting.  It brings up a lot of thought-provoking questions that would make for a lively book club discussion.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I purchased a copy of Educated from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.


  1. Yup, that's what I thought, too.

  2. I totally loved this book despite bouncing between feeling hopeful and wondering at the stupid of mankind as I read it. I'm not a particularly religious person, so I didn't see it as necessarily being an attack on religion in general or any one religion in particular. But I can certainly understand why others may have.

    What she accomplished in almost educating herself all alone and then going to the schools she did later on still amazes me. Educated is one of my favorite nonfiction books of the year, but I wonder if she has another book in her now.

    1. Westover's story is truly amazing. It just shows that a keen human mind will not be stopped from learning, no matter what!

      I have strong feelings about Mormonism in particular and that obviously colors my experience with any book about the religion. Who knows what I would have thought about it if I was not religious or a member of the Church?

  3. I've been curious about this one, too. However, I feel like the religious aspects -- and how they're portrayed -- would be a big turn-off.

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

    1. I find people's experiences (negative and positive) with different religions interesting to read about, but in this case, I felt like Westover completely rejected religion because of her upbringing and now insinuates that you can't be both religious and educated. I just don't believe that.

    2. I don't remember her implying that, but I may be misremembering. I remember her being very positive about her professors at BYU, and the education provided there. And I think I remember her grandmother, who she portrayed as a more mainline Mormon, as a positive, intelligent figure.

    3. To be fair, I read this book back in May, but I take copious notes while I read and the impressions I jot down are what I use when writing my reviews. The overall impression I got from the book was that Westover felt a person couldn't be both religious and educated. She may not have explicitly said that, but that was the IMPRESSION I, personally, got.

      Also, I think Westover went out of her way to state that her parents were not typical Church members, but some of the things she wrote about Mormonism still bugged me.

  4. I like your personal take on why the book didn't wow you; it's good for me to hear different perspectives and it's one of the reasons I love the book blogging community. I liked this book and found her journey fascinating.

    1. Agreed. I'm always fascinated by people's varying reactions to the same book! So much of your experience with a book depends on your beliefs, your background, your life experience, etc. It's possible I would have had a completely different reaction to this book had I not been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  5. I felt the same way about this one as you did! Especially the points you make at the end. I think her perception of religion has been greatly skewed by her upbringing--which is totally understandable. But it lessened the book a bit for me.

    1. Agreed. I wonder if she'll feel the same about it all in 10 years or 20 when she's a little more removed from her childhood experience?

  6. I have this one, but haven't read it yet. I do totally understand how your own faith experience would make you a bit defensive regarding her more negative thoughts. I feel that that way myself at times when reading books that reflect other types of life experiences. However, I suspect that she couldn't help but be scarred by her upbringing. Curious to wonder how her life will be decades from now and also curious to wonder about her writing life from this point on. I suspect I will read this one at some point or perhaps do a read/listen. Enjoyed hearing your thoughts, Susan.

  7. I had seen a lot of raves for this one, and I acknowledge, that the author's story sounds interesting, but I do feel as though academics are constantly attacking religion and I think that would bother me.


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