Tara Westover’s new tale of escape, Educated, makes [J.D.] Vance’s seem tame by comparison ... The extremity of Westover’s upbringing emerges gradually through her telling, which only makes the telling more alluring and harrowing ... It is only when the final, wrenching break from most of her family arrives that one realizes just how courageous this testimonial really is. These disclosures will take a toll. But one is also left convinced that the costs are worth it. By the end, Westover has somehow managed not only to capture her unsurpassably exceptional upbringing, but to make her current situation seem not so exceptional at all, and resonant for many others.
Despite the gaps between them, Westover is able to see the mix of good and evil, of pride and hurt, in all these people, including herself. Rather than demonize, she wishes to understand. A brilliant mind so long constricted proves elastic and inventive. Whether narrating scenes of fury and violence or evoking rural landscapes or tortured self-analysis, Westover writes with uncommon intelligence and grace. Educated recounts one of the most improbable and fascinating journeys I’ve read in recent years.
The most powerful section is the first, which Westover writes from the point of view of herself as a girl. She recounts her bizarre life dispassionately, as though it was perfectly ordinary, and it is that sense of normality that gives this section its power ... It is the third section that is the most difficult to read — the least polished, the most painful, perhaps because it is the most recent. It lacks distance, both temporal and emotional ... the rawness of this last section suggests that despite her amazing transformation and this powerful book, Westover’s remarkable education is not yet complete.
The diaries lend Educated a forensic level of detail, so it stands out when information is withheld. Perhaps this is prurient, but given that Westover describes so honestly the shame she’s made to feel in relation to her body and her sexuality at the hands of both her brother and fundamentalist religion, I wanted to hear more about her journey out of 'modesty' and towards the healthy relationship hinted at towards the end of the book ... In the end, Westover’s triumph in forging a grounded self, and a coherent narrative, from such a maelstrom, come to the same thing: for it is in the often complex and sometimes long-delayed act of assembling the story of our lives that we discover who we really are.
Her story is remarkable, as each extreme anecdote described in tidy prose attests. That someone who grew up in her circumstances could achieve as much as she has is astonishing. All the same, readers who enjoyed more mundane backgrounds will empathise. The central tension she wrestles with throughout her book is how to be true to herself without alienating her family. Her upbringing was extraordinary, but that struggle is not.
Westover’s narrative style – episodic, meditative and repetitive – doesn’t embrace melodrama to the extent that many of those ['misery lit'] books did. Her voice is slightly flimsy, scaffolding with sheets of plastic floating off, as if still in the process of building itself. Other than as a sort of articulate vortex of suffering, one hasn’t much of a sense of her. Educated relies on the conceit that Westover was saved by books, but at the end I had a sense of our narrator still hiding behind her degrees and certificates, not quite ready to step into the light ... Westover has a story to tell that shouldn’t be ignored. Her background says something important about the US: that even in a place of great opportunity, you can grow up without any idea of how to touch its white-hot centre. This memoir tracks all the ways that traditional American life puts up roadblocks and actively dissuades you from outgrowing your 'roots.' There are insights here that could compete with JD Vance’s problematic and more ideological Hillbilly Elegy – if only they were more directly articulated.
Because Tara had to fight to break free from her family’s limiting influences, Educated will be an inspiration to some. Her storytelling, characterizations, and dialogue are strong. Any sensitive reader will respond to the hopefulness of her academic and literary achievements ... And yet, everybody in every family (even in the best of circumstances) has the challenge of establishing a singular identity against a lacerating background. This book has what modern memoir promises (a cut, a scab, and the endless compulsion to pick at it) but, in the end, that formula doesn’t guarantee resonance.
Tara Westover is living proof that some people are flat-out, boots-always-laced-up indomitable. Her new book is a heartbreaking, heartwarming, best-in-years memoir about striding beyond the limitations of birth and environment into a better life.
The power to leave her warped family of origin and move forward into her own adult life: This is the education of Ms. Westover’s title. Which was something of a letdown to me, the reader. I don’t mean to minimize the distance Ms. Westover has traveled. But other children of paranoid conspiracists, not to mention children of alcoholics and children of bipolar parents, have also managed to emerge from the toxic fantasy. On the other hand, almost no one encounters formal education for the first time at 18 and immediately becomes a scholar. Ms. Westover doesn’t seem to have any sense of how remarkable that journey is ... Educated is fascinating, and it’s probably unfair of me to carp at a memoirist who wrote her life story by age 30 for not having sufficient insight. But this hole in her explanations is a huge and intriguing one.
Because Tara had to fight to break free from her family’s limiting influences, Educated will be an inspiration to some. Her storytelling, characterizations, and dialogue are strong. Any sensitive reader will respond to the hopefulness of her academic and literary achievements. And yet, everybody in every family (even in the best of circumstances) has the challenge of establishing a singular identity against a lacerating background. This book has what modern memoir promises (a cut, a scab, and the endless compulsion to pick at it) but, in the end, that formula doesn’t guarantee resonance.
We learn about a third of the way through the book that she kept journals, but she is a bit vague about a few things. How, for example, did her family pay for the professional medical treatment of severe injuries that several of them experienced? ... An astonishing account of deprivation, confusion, survival, and success.