Schooled

Hard lessons learned while overcoming a survivalist upbringing make Tara Westover’s “Educated: A Memoir” a must read.

I cannot stop talking about this book. I have shared it with friends and neighbors, random people at the grocery store and my students’ parents. I cannot stop recommending Tara Westover’s lovingly written, impressively lucid memoir and I don’t think I ever will.

Tara Westover was born in 1986 to a Mormon family in rural Idaho. She is the youngest of seven and does not know her exact birthdate as she was born at home and her parents refused to get her a birth certificate. Westover grew up participating in mostly off-again homeschooling, helping her mother run a midwifing and herbal healing business, and working in her father’s dangerous and deadly scrap yard. Westover’s family are survivalist Mormons, but she clearly lays out before the memoir even begins that “this story is not about Mormonism.”

Westover’s father spent a great deal of his time and energy working to prepare his family for the End of Days. He required his children to spend their days procuring and preparing everything needed to live “off the grid,” self-reliantly, for when the End of Days comes. The memoir details adventures starting around age seven and ending when Westover pursued formal schooling at 17, during which she and her siblings buried rifles, canned peaches, developed water sources and did everything necessary for survival.

Westover shares shockingly clear and vivid memories of brushes with danger and death, both for herself and her family members. An underlying thread tying the whole memoir together is the domestic violence Westover falls victim to at the hands of her older brother Shawn. Shawn, as well as Westover’s parents, saw these acts as the work of God, keeping Westover pure, modest and in line as a woman.

The impact of the violence on her life is clear to see. Westover’s meticulous journal keeping made it possible for her to provide clear snapshots of each moment, filled with the emotions she felt and the questions with which she was left. She shares watershed moments in her life, like putting a deadbolt lock on her bedroom door, or realizing her other siblings may have been abused by her brother as well. Coming to the full understanding that he may abuse others if she does not speak out.

When Westover left her family home to attend Brigham Young University, she was able to develop a bigger sense of the world. No matter how much Westover’s life changed or how far she flew from Idaho, she held tight to the roots that were her family, not what they believed in or stood for, but that they were her home. As her family separates themselves from her, Westover finds herself untethered. Though she knew her family wasn’t a safe place for her, she deeply desired a sense of belonging, as we all do.

Westover’s parents argue that her recollections and portrayals of her upbringing and homelife are fictitious, and greatly exaggerated. I find her story very credible based on the manner in which she interweaves details of her life with her emotions and feelings.

If you read anything in 2018, make it this book. Take a chance to look at family, education, health, religion, work and joy through the lens of Tara Westover’s “Educated.” Her invitation to readers to question their responsibility to their family and their society, especially when the two are at odds, is a must read.

East Falls Social Justice Book Club – A Year in Review

Month Title Sarah’s rating (out of 10)
January Mutant Messages Down Under by Marlo Morgan paired with Because a White Man’ll Never Do It by Kevin Gilbert 5/10
February The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy 7/10
March Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli 9/10
April The Book of Night Women by Marlon James 8.5/10
May Inevitable Revolutions by Walter LaFerber 5/10
June Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi 10/10
July The Leavers by Lisa Ko 8.5/10
August Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond 10/10
September There There by Tommy Orange 10/10
October Boy Erased: A Memoir by Garrard Conley 9/10
November Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover 10/10

What Is the East Falls Social Justice Book Club?

The Club meets monthly to discuss readings over wine, seltzer and cheese. All are welcome to join us. We discuss the varied elements of our readings, and then make action plans to impact our community based on our learning. We will be determining our 2019 meeting dates, times and books soon. For more info, email me at sarah.carroll.sju@gmail.com, or follow the EFSJ instagram at ef_socialjustice.

Sarah Carroll is a Baltimore native who moved to Philadelphia to attend St. Joseph's University 11 years ago. Sarah proudly serves as the Dean of School Culture and English Teacher at St. James School in neighboring Allegheny West. Sarah loves running, yoga, reading, cooking, drinking coffee and teaching. She lives with her partner on Midvale Avenue and loves everything about East Falls.

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