I’m not quite sure how I feel about Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated. Comparisons with Hillbilly Elegy, which I did not like, are inevitable. The stories are actually quite different, as are the attitudes of the narrators. I had referred to J.D. Vance (author of Hillbilly Elegy) as “irritating,” and I stick to it; he is very sure of himself and blames his relatives and fellow Appalachia residents for their problems. Westover, on the other hand, comes across as a potentially unreliable narrator, as she often doubts herself when her memories conflict with others’. The premise is certainly interesting: growing up “home-schooled” (but actually unschooled) in an Idaho family of fundamentalist survivalist Mormons— with a psychotic father, an atypical mother, and six siblings — she gets admitted to Brigham Young by dint of high ACT scores and eventually proceeds to earn a doctorate after graduate work at Cambridge University and Harvard. Wow!

All that sounds fascinating, and it is. But the father’s utter disregard for personal safety — his own and his family’s — is hard to take, as is the family’s abuse of the author (apparently not sexual, but still…). The economics of the whole situation are just too confusing. Does the family have money? Don’t they? Why is the family such a confusing mix of kids who don’t graduate from (or even attend) high school and kids who eventually earn doctorates, with nothing in between? I could easily ask another dozen such questions. More editing would have helped, but no one has editors these days. It’s still worth reading Educated.

Categories: Books