• Courtney Garrison

A Review of Tara Westover’s Educated...

Updated: Jan 20

I wrote this blurb on International Women’s Day:

“Here’s to strong women. May we be them. May we know them. May we raise them”

My palms are definitely sweating. Could be the words I’m reading. Could be that my iPhone flashlight has been on for an hour while I sneak a few more chapters before bed. Did this girl just say her Dad made her scrap for metal in a junkyard all day instead of being homeschooled? Someone get an anthro candle going. It’s going to be a long night.

We all experience self-doubt; worried someone may see through our efforts to discover a fraud. Everyone else in the room is overly qualified and somehow you snuck in. I know I face those moments. For example: I studied business and the first thing I wanted to work on after graduating was a blog? I am not a writer. I feel fancy when I use a semicolon. Tara uses sentence structures that flow with absolute perfection and melodic rhythms. Her voice is raw and her perspective untouched. My husband kept asking why I was gasping while reading…I absolutely couldn’t put the book down.

Imagine sitting in a university level classroom and someone raises their hand to ask the professor what the Holocaust was, how would you respond? With grace or with judgment?

Among us are characters plucked from clashing environments, green to our own existence and desperately trying to find their value. Do we assume everyone was raised how we were? I fall into that trap easily. Asking questions like “Is your family a Bell or Bueno family?” and “Where did your church go to summer camp?” (Kanakuk? Falls Creek?) or even “Aren’t big brothers the best?”…instead of conversations like “Tell me about your childhood and your family?” I was once told that we all have expectations of how others are to treat us. Those expectations have root somewhere- I think they are partly from how our parents treated us while growing up and how they treated one another. Still thinking Levi should fill my car up with gas after he drives it and can a girl get some Saturday morning donuts? (because that is what husbands do, right?)

Just like Tara, I too was homeschooled. Yes. Pause for shock factor to simmer.

Siblings. I am so blessed.

I thought maybe Tara and I would have some similar memories; however, my homeschool reality looked quite different from hers. Until high school I was among the ever brilliant, overachieving, piano playing home academics. Yes, our family rocked a 15 passenger van (John Crist has the description just right). My mom had such a passion for teaching us and providing an awesome environment for learning. We were sent to university science classes and even to a co-op full of awesome homeschool families. However, I am sorry to report that I didn’t quite fit in with my brainy peers. Everyone seemed to learn the multiplication tables early…except yikes that didn’t happen for me (stuck to the ole calculate the 10s and go from there strategy for years). It was as clear as can be that I was not gifted academically. For example, in grade school I chose “15 pounds” on a standardized test question asking students to select the approximate weight of a mouse… my parents were concerned and asked where I had seen such a creature.

I was given the tools to succeed and I eventually grew more and more interested in education as time went on. School has never come easily for me. I love it, but it has never come naturally. My peers seemed to navigate courses with smooth transitions while I scratched and clawed my way through (think Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada pre makeover montage). Shout out to all of my tutors who kept the faith-cue Katniss Everdeen’s three finger solute to district 11. Also, shout out to my high school teachers who didn’t act like algebra and geometry are quantum physics. I have a theory that a student’s first experience with a concept is a big deal… can we not act like if they don’t get it the first time they are bound for a life of loneliness with trolls under the bridge? A rant for another day.

Tara was taught to read and left to pursue further knowledge on her own in between painful and long manual labor shifts. What on earth? I was almost yelling at her parents as I read some of her recollections… She grew up quicker than I ever did. She was faced with abuse and an abundance of unknowns about the world she was born into; a world consumed by preparation for the End of Days.

I wonder how I would have responded as a child in her shoes. Would I have fought like she did? I really hope so. I pray that I raise my daughter to be strong, brave and passionately curious-not accepting things as truth without her own discovery. My husband and I are both huge cheerleaders for higher education and its ability to inspire new ideas. Of course higher ed isn’t for everyone-so many people thrive without it; however, having access to educational opportunities isn’t something we have ever taken for granted. Honorable mention to history---do we value its importance in our everyday lives?

Throughout Tara’s life, there were glimmers of hope found in a few people who saw her, truly saw her. Mentorships and friendships emerged slowly. Professors recognized her intelligence, listened to her plight and pleaded with her to accept help by applying for federal grants. Some even urged her not to return to her family’s home during breaks in the academic year for fear that she wouldn’t return to school. Roommates took time to question her strange behavior with concern-discovering she had a hernia which she was simply hoping would subside without medical care-as she was raised to never trust modern medicine. My jaw was on the floor as she described serious injuries being treated with herbs and oils. As years went by, Tara’s acceptance of her father’s sermons diminished. She fiercely questioned why abuses were allowed and the truth faded. Family members denied remembering painful events and questioned her sanity. Close relationships dwindled to include an equally exiled aunt, an ever-loving grandpa and two brothers/sisters in law with authentic and genuine understanding of her heart.

Are there people around me struggling in ways I can’t begin to understand that I don’t see? Yes, there must be. This novel stirred my heart and highlighted the importance of seeing one another with fresh eyes, not loose assumptions.



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