A fan of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls I was looking forward to reading Tara Westover’s book Educated, another memoir about rising above and beyond a hardscrabble childhood.
And let me state this: I read The Glass Castle. I know The Glass Castle. I even met Jeannette Walls at an author event. And believe me Educated is no The Glass Castle.
Born and raised in Buck’s Peak, Idaho, Tara Westover was the youngest of her mother and father’s seven children.
To say Westover’s childhood was less than typical is an understatement. Her parents, Gene and Faye (pseudonyms), strived to live off the grid, isolated from society. They shunned the government, doctors, and public schools. Instead, they treated ailments with homemade cures often using essential oils and tincture. And Faye homeschooled her brood in a very haphazard manner.
Still, as a child, Westover desired a more normal life. She wanted to go to school and get involved in activities other kids her age were involved in. Her father forbid her going to school to get some “book learning.” Yet, somehow Westover was allowed music lessons and ended up playing lead in a local production of the musical ” Annie.”
Getting involved in local theater and hanging out with kids from more “normal” backgrounds opened up new worlds for Westover. Yet, her family, for the most part, weren’t very impressed with Westover’s theatrical pursuits. Especially her father who put the kibosh on his daughter going to school.
Fortunately, Westover had an older brother, Tyler, who encouraged his little sister to envision a life beyond Buck’s Peak. Incidentally, Tyler escaped Buck’s Peak and achieved an education, including a Ph.D.
Sadly, Westover had another brother Shawn who was very abusive both physically and emotionally. He even shoved her head in a toilet!
Because of her lack of formal schooling (and needing to escape her dysfunctional family), Westover chose to educate herself. She scored very high on the ACT and was admitted into Brigham Young University.
BYU was like going to another planet for the sheltered Westover. Until then she never had heard of the Holocaust among other historical moments.
Westover also had a hard time adjusting to her peers and their different ways. And at times she was quite judgemental towards them.
Yet, she did bond with a few of her classmates and professors. Many of them supported and mentored her, often getting her out of a sticky situation.
Westover excels as an undergrad, which gives her a chance to study at England’s prestigious Cambridge University and Harvard later achieving her very own Ph.D.
Still, Buck’s Peak beckoned, and Westover found herself going back despite her family’s extreme dysfunction. Her brother Shawn had become even more abusive, especially towards his wife and children. And Westover’s parents were busy with their successful essential oils business.
Educated started out strong with a powerful narrative of Westover’s troubled upbringing.
But once she got to BYU, her story began to fall flat and sparked my cynicism. At times there were plot holes so big you could drive a semi through them.
Westover claims her family lived as survivalist yet they had modern convienences like TVs, computers, Internet access, and cell phones.
The family has horrific accidents and injuries, yet never receive proper medical care.
Westover gets away with things in college most students would not. And professors, classmates, boyfriends, and roommates bend over backwards for her. Not too mention a lot of her success seems to fall in her lap. She isn’t that brilliant.
And though she did get scholarships, I wondered where she got the money to pay for rent, bills, food, travel, and other assorted amenities.
I was also bothered by her refusing to report Shawn to the authorities. She definitely had the power to do so.
Though Educated is a compelling read, I found Westover to be humorless and cold. And I didn’t appreciate her lack of gratitude or her lack of paying it forward.
Thank goodness there are vastly superior memoirs I’ve enjoyed over the years, many I’ve reviews at this very blog.