Review: Educated / by Madeleine Riley

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Note: Top Shelf Text received a copy of this text from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!

I have no doubt you'll see Educated everywhere this year. This mind-blowing memoir is being compared to The Glass Castle -- a widely revered (though not my personal favorite) memoir of an unconventional childhood. Tara Westover was raised in circumstances that were far different from my own, and reading this book felt like witnessing something from another world. Westover's family -- mother, father, and seven children -- lived on a mountain in Idaho, isolated from even the small village nearby. Westover's parents (more specifically, her father) did not believe in public education or medicine, but did believe in the imminent end of days. They lived off the grid, guided by a mix of religious and survivalist beliefs.

As is obvious from the book's description and the fact of it's existence, Westover managed to secure an education (and a really impressive one at that), as well as disentangle herself from her family's damaging beliefs about the proper place for a woman (in the kitchen, according to her father), and a cycle of abuse perpetuated by mental illness.

There are so many moments in this book that made me gasp -- from the larger traumatic events to small details, like the fact that Westover was granted a birth certificate at the age of nine, at which time her mother struggled to remember her date of birth (Westover ends up picking a date for her own birthday). The thing that I find most interesting about it was Westover's struggle to extricate herself from what she refers to as the effect of "brainwashing" in her extended family. Even as she is completing a PhD program in Cambridge, Westover debates sacrificing her hard work to return to a submissive position in her parents' household. It's clear that her family was held in the grip of mental illness, and that Westover's experiences with emotional and physical abuse had a lifelong impact on her self-perception and ability to form relationships outside of her family. 

As she relays some of the more shocking tales in the book, Westover admits that her memory isn't always clear. Conflicting accounts are acknowledged in more than one place, and I found it even more interesting that there are several Amazon reviews written by family and community members with claims that Westover's accounts are falsified. Westover writes about her estrangement from the majority of her family and it appears that her exile is ongoing and exacerbated by the release of her memoir.

Though I found this book thoroughly fascinating, I don't think this book is suitable for all readers. If you've had experiences with abuse or trauma in any form, I'd advise you to skip this one. Like I said, my experience is so far from Westover's that I had a solid wall of dissonance while reading, which allowed me to put aside my HSP tendencies and immerse myself in the story. If you liked Under the Banner of Heaven, I highly recommend Educated. I also would love to discuss the story in a book club setting, as I think it's ripe for discussion about family relationships, societal expectations, and discussions on memory.

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

  • Title: Educated
  • Author: Tara Westover
  • Publisher: Penguin Random House
  • Price: $17 on Amazon
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Penguin Random House