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If you’re looking for a knockout book to read for your book club, Educated is definitely an excellent choice.

An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castle about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Unforgettable is certainly a good word to use when describing Educated, and though it is compared to The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, I often quipped while reading it was as though Tara Westover told Jeannette to step aside and let the professionals take over! Or as a friend quipped, “Hold my beer Jeannette!” Tara Westover elevates the nonconformist family and the harrowing upbringing to levels that seriously make the family in The Glass Castle look like the work of amateurs. Yes, while there are many shocking, disturbing and harrowing moments to read about, Educated is a book you will not be able to put down, or get out of your mind for quite a long time after finishing. Therefore, we finally had a winning book club book that properly yanked us out of our long, dusty and dry drought of good reads. I was consumed by it for sure, I could not take my eyes from it but I was also deeply disturbed by it, extremely angered and now have great hatred for Tara Westover’s family. I’m so happy she escaped. Although that escape comes as great cost for her mentally, physically and emotionally.

My book club discussions for it already started well before our scheduled meeting time. I work together with a member of our book club and I ventured down to her office earlier in the week and this book was the only thing we discussed! So again, an excellent book club choice as there will definitely be discussion about it! We unpacked and repacked many moments from the book along with our overall impressions of it before meeting with the others.

It was painfully tragic to read how an entire family suffered under one man’s atrociousness. Tara Westover’s father was horrible, he put Jeannette Walls’ father, Rex to shame.  I wasn’t halfway through the book when all I could think of was seeing Tara’s father atone for the harrowing conditions he subjected his family to and to atone for his horribleness.

This may seem harsh, as clearly the man suffered from crippling depression and mental illness, and although they called themselves survivalists, their mental, emotional and physical survival was consistently in peril. It’s unbelievable to me to think of how many others are suffering in the manner Westover did under that kind of upbringing – because sadly, you know she isn’t the only one. Battling against the Illuminati was the reason his kids were not allowed schooling, for he believed they were brainwashed to go to battle for the “establishment”. Education and schooling was no more than “Government propaganda programs”. Yet, every kid in the Westover household craved education and Tara writes about one of her brothers hiding under the stairs in the basement devouring an encyclopedia. Then there was her older brother Tyler who dared to leave the house and go to college. I was extremely thankful she had Tyler in her life – the only one to encourage her to go to school and escape the madness. Their father railed and railed about Tyler’s brainwashing and being taken in by the Illuminati, but Tyler prevailed.

“Tyler stood to go. “There’s a world out there, Tara,” he said. “And it will look a lot different once Dad is no longer whispering his view of it in your ear.”

When he wasn’t railing about the Illuminati, he had the family worrying, stockpiling and preparing for the Days of Abomination.  In the beginning, it was horrifying to read how her family suffered through major car accidents, burns, limbs being ripped and torn and burned from the scrapyard the father ran – all with no medical assistance, no hospital, no doctors. Only using their mother’s tinctures and herbal remedies because of the Medical Establishment. It was harrowing and horrifying reading.

“I’d never learned how to talk to people who weren’t like us – people who went to school and visited the doctor. Who weren’t preparing every day, for the End of the World.” 

For a bit, Tara believed her mother was behind her as well. “Don’t you stay. Go. Don’t let anything stop you from going.” But her mother ended up siding with her father every time.

“When I’d told Dad that I planned to go to college, he’d said a woman’s place was in the home, that I should be learning about herbs – “God’s pharmacy” he’d called it, smiling to himself – so I could take over for Mother. He’d said a lot more, of course, about how I was whoring after man’s knowledge instead of God’s , but still I decided to ask him about trigonometry. Here was a sliver of man’s knowledge I was certain he possessed.” 

And then, halfway through, instead of being deeply disturbed, those feelings turned to hatred for her family – her father and her brother Shawn above all. Tara’s tortuous path to escape left her so conflicted and torn, wondering always if she was doing the right thing.

“I’d always known that my father believed in a different God. As a child, I’d been aware that although my family attended the same church as everyone in our town, our religion was not the same. They believed in modesty; we practiced it. They believed in God’s power to heal; we left our injuries in God’s hands. They believed in preparing for the Second Coming; we actually prepared. For as long as I could remember, I’d known that the members of my own family were the only true Mormons I had ever known, and yet for some reason, here at this university, in this chapel, for the first time I felt the immensity of the gap. I understood now: I could stand with my family, or with the gentiles, on the one side or the other, but there was no foothold in between.”

Her torment in always wondering if what she was doing was the right thing to do – shouldn’t she always choose her family over anything else? Even when she’s being told she’s one of the greatest scholars Cambridge has seen in 30 years? Her inability to break perfectly free was so heartbreaking to read about, she wrote about it so well. Even being able to break free from the abuse she suffered at the hands of her brother, still Tara was conflicted. Finally, she chooses her own way, her own future and it is thankfully one separate from her family. And I couldn’t be happier about that. Educated was amazing and it was an all consuming read that was so needed at this time, and definitely one our book club needed.

A good companion book, although not nearly as distressing to read, would be The Girl Who Slept with God

Tara Westover, photographed in Vogue.