“Educated” by Tara Westover is a thought-provoking memoir about growing up in a Mormon Survivalist family. She was the youngest of seven children, all working in the junkyard owned by their father, Val, in the mountains of south-eastern Idaho.

Val Westover and his wife, LaRee, excluded the government from their family life. The children, born at home, did not have birth certificates. Doctors were not needed, because LaRee’s knowledge of herbs and home remedies seemed sufficient.

For a time, the four oldest children received home-schooling from their mother, but, Ms. Westover writes, by the time Tara came along, home schooling became lost in the mix of the day. Tara could climb cranes and crush cars but she knew little of the outside world.

Her parents loved her, but one of her brothers was physically abusive to her and her parents turned a blind eye if she spoke or complained, even though her mother witnessed some of it. 

At home, Tara saw her mother as a weak woman dominated by her husband. Outside the home, though, LaRee found the strength to become a practicing, though unlicensed, midwife, and Tara saw her mother as more independent and strong in those circumstances.

LaRee started selling her herbs and remedies, first as a cottage industry. Now as a larger business, Butterfly Express sells its products on the Internet.

Tara’s father believed the end of the world was coming and thought the most
important thing he could do for his family was stockpile food and fuel for The Coming.

Eventually a brother scored high enough on the ACT test to attend Brigham Young University. He encouraged Tara, saying she could do the same. 

Tara believed she had to get away from the brutal life in the junkyard. She graduated from Brigham Young with honors and received a scholarship from Trinity College Cambridge, earning her Ph.D. in history at Cambridge in 2014. Two of her siblings, Tyler and Richard, have also earned Ph.D.s.

She writes, “Not knowing for certain, but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty was a privilege I had never allowed myself. My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It never had occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”

Tara Westover found her voice, which has reverberated from England, where she now lives, to Idaho.  

The Westover family has taken issue with Tara Westover about how she “maligns” their lives, their religion and their lifestyle, said Blake Atkin, a family friend and attorney.

In The Preston (Idaho) Citizen in February of this year, Necia P. Seamons wrote that Mr. Atkin said “Educated” should be read “with a grain of salt. … Although ‘there’s a little germ of truth,’ in “Educated,” the book falsely portrays the Westover family,’ Atkin said.”

Some passages in this book are so beautiful one may read them again, just to savor – with or without a grain of salt – the author’s insights on how one reaches mature reasoning.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...