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Educated (2018) is a memoir by the American author Tara Westover. Westover recounts overcoming her survivalist Mormon family in order to go to college, and emphasizes the importance of education in enlarging her world. She details her journey from her isolated life in the mountains of Idaho to completing a PhD program in history at Cambridge University. She started college at the age of 17 having had no formal education. She explores her struggle to reconcile her desire to learn with the world she inhabited with her father.
As of the September 13, 2020, issue of The New York Times, the book had spent 132 consecutive weeks on the Hardcover Non-Fiction Best Seller list. It won a 2019 Alex Award and was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, PEN America’s Jean Stein Book Award, and two awards from the National Book Critics Circle Award.
The memoir is told in three parts. The first part describes Westover’s life beginning on Buck’s Peak, a mountain located in rural Idaho, until her acceptance into Brigham Young University (BYU). Her parents, Gene and Faye Westover (pseudonyms) lived in isolation. Her father was paranoid about hospitals, the public school system, and the government, due in part to the 1992 events of Ruby Ridge. Westover’s mother undertook most of the children’s loose homeschooling and her father taught the children the “rhythms of the mountain”.
Tara’s attempts to attend school or seek other normality in her life were denied by her father. Gene becomes depressed when his prophecies about the Y2K apocalypse did not occur. When Tara suffers a neck injury from a car accident, her father refused to take her to the hospital for treatment. Tara’s estranged brother Shawn helped her and the two initially grew closer. However, Shawn started physically abusing her after she became close to Charles, a boy she met while performing in theater. Another of Tara’s brothers, Tyler, learned of the abuse and encouraged her to leave home and take the ACT to be able to apply to Brigham Young University. Westover was later admitted to BYU and given a scholarship. She and Shawn became close again after he stood up to their father on her behalf. When Shawn has a serious motorcycle accident, she takes him to the hospital.
Part two covers Westover’s studies at BYU and King’s College, Cambridge. She received financial awards that allowed her to attend Cambridge. She describes the stress she felt from the pressure of having to maintain her grades in order to keep her scholarship, as well as the issues she runs into due to her alienation from the outside world and lack of formal schooling. Later, Tara also reconnects with Charles, but feels like she cannot act romantically towards him because of her conservative upbringing. She also questions the abuse she endured from her father and Shawn, which results in her breaking off her relationship with Charles.
Westover realizes that she no longer feels at home in Idaho, and worries that her father may have bipolar disorder. She cuts ties with him, but reconnects after he expresses interest in her life at school. After Shawn marries Emily, a young woman he was dating, Tara worries about Emily who previously expressed fear of Shawn. Interested in history and politics, Westover confides to one of her professors about her family. Her professor encourages her to apply for the study abroad program at the University of Cambridge. After arriving at King’s College, Tara is assigned to work with Professor Jonathan Steinberg. Both of her professors encourage her to attend graduate school. Westover applies for and wins the Gates Scholarship. She also makes a temporary truce with her father, after the two had a falling out over how she spoke about her past to local news outlets as well as her decision to attend school in England.
In Part three, Westover writes about her life in Cambridge and completing her PhD. She takes steps to be part of the world, including getting immunized for vaccinations her family rejected. She occasionally returns to Idaho where she learns that Shawn is still abusing Emily. Her sister, Audrey, learned about Shawn’s behavior, but their mother did not believe her. Eventually, Tara and her mother take up email correspondence. During this period, her mother suggests that Gene is mentally ill and writes about how they plan to get Shawn the help he needs. On another trip home, Shawn briefly shows signs of change, but later accuses Audrey of lying about his abusive behavior and threatens to kill her. Gene and Faye do not take Tara seriously when she tells them about Shawn’s threat.
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