I read the entirety of Tara Westover’s memoir Educated in an anxious fit. My heart twisting and my muscles tensed in response to her own paralysis as she navigates her violent and dysfunctional family dynamics from child to adult. Born into a large fundamentalist Mormon family Westover grew up believing the End of Days doctrine passed down from her zealot (possibly bipolar) father and neglectful or indifferent mother—a pair who chose to keep their seven children out of public schools, away from modern medicine and as much social and government access as they could, hoarding guns and bullets and stocking their bomb shelter. This alone would have made for an interesting life story however add into the mix a deranged and abusive older brother Shawn, a criminally negligent father and a mother who refused to acknowledge the pain under her own roof, and the following is a childhood recollected with such tense fervor at times I felt I might vomit or weep from the sheer perturbation of it all.
Westover details her childhood growing up on a poor farm in Idaho called Buck Peak in the shadow of a mountain where her father scrapped in his junkyard and they lived in relative squalor. She and her brothers are called to work in the junkyard where each is injured to varying degrees, at times, almost purposefully by their father who deems any injury “God’s will” and protective gear interfering to the work. Westover knows she’s different from other children (and other Mormons) but how different she doesn’t realize until she’s a teenager and attempts to educate herself. From there it’s a struggle between her innate curiosity about the world and ability to learn and her obedience and obligation to a family who firmly believes she’s sinning and can only offer love with strings attached.
This memoir was so difficult to read, the injustices beyond frustrating and the overwhelming emotion you feel for this smart spunky girl and the strong woman she’s trying to become is incredibly powerful. It would be easy to attribute most of what happens to Westover to her parents’ strict religious devotion but it’s not Mormonism that fails her family, even when their refusal to see doctors results in terrifying burns and injuries treated only with energy work and homemade tinctures, it’s less a criticism of faith but of parenting. Even when the family seems ready to confront the pain of her brother and his abusive past, instead they turn away and cast her out, leaving Westover in crisis trying to figure out what and who she is without the albatross of her family.
Educated is a demanding memoir, requiring more emotional investment and labour than you might be used to—and worth every single agitated second of it. My first must-read of 2018.