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Tara Westover

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. She spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating emergency supplies, hoping that when the World of Men failed, her family would continue on, unaffected.

She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in doctors or hospitals. According to the state and federal government, she didn’t exist.

As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At sixteen Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with the severing of the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, from her singular experience Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers- the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.


Tara Westover grew up on a mountain in Idaho with her parents and six siblings. She was given almost no formal education, as her father kept the family isolated, prepping for the end times, eschewing doctors and schools, and preaching a mixture of conspiracy theories and religious doctrine. How Tara went from scrapping in a junkyard at age ten to studying for a PhD at Harvard in her twenties is the fascinating hook of this memoir.

But Educated isn’t a quiet journey of a young woman falling in love with learning, as I thought it might be when I picked it up. Instead, it is raw, breathless, harrowing, savage and completely captivating. This is less a memoir about education, and more a powerful story of survival.

The violence against Tara comes in many forms; directly, at the hands of an older brother, and indirectly, through her parents’ neglect, dysfunction and insistence on avoiding medical care. Tara and her family suffer an extraordinary number of injuries and accidents. There were many moments when I had to put the book down and take a breath, because I was so worried for Tara’s safety, and I couldn’t bear another moment of her pain.

Comparisons to The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr are obvious, but also necessary, because Educated sits firmly alongside them. If you have read and loved either of those books, as I have, then you need to read Educated. This is an extraordinary, utterly immersive memoir.

Nina Kenwood is the marketing manager for Readings.

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