Book Review:
‘Educated,’ An Unforgettable Journey Toward Self

Most sinister of all was the abuse Tara suffered at the hands of her older brother Shawn. There is some evidence that he suffered from a head injury due to a fall at the junkyard, although his behavior may have been driven by the anger he felt as he watched Tara grow up and grow away knowing that he had no options for his future. He would be kind and generous one minute, then call her a whore, force her head into the toilet, or attack and choke her until other family members pulled him off. Once, he broke her wrist. When the older Tara witnessed Shawn’s same behavior toward his mousy young wife, she confronted their parents. At first, her mother seemed to understand and even apologized for not “being a good mother” and keeping Tara safe. Gene, however, refused to listen unless Tara had proof and threatened to disown her. True to form, Faye quickly echoed her husband’s position, and the sense of betrayal Tara felt, along with her refusal to take back her accusations and apologize to her brother, created a fissure that has never mended.

Watching her mother, who for many years has been the family’s main breadwinner, submit to her husband’s irrational demands may have planted a germ of feminism in Westover. After leaving Buck’s Peak, she was at first appalled by how her fellow students dressed and behaved. And, when she tried reading second-wave feminists Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, she had to quickly abort. However, her own conflicted feelings about being a woman, but not settling for the womanly role of obedient wife and mother, drew her to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ideas about feminism from writers like Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill. It was these earlier concepts that drove her to investigate the relationship between history and the historians who articulate it. In fact, her graduate work and dissertation compared their positions to the tenets of Mormonism. 

Although much of Westover’s tale involves fear and abuse, she safeguards the happier memories connected to her childhood home. “You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them. You can miss a person every day, and still be glad that they are no longer in your life,” she writes. Above all else, though, her life today is a testament to the value of education, formal (you can’t get much more formal than Cambridge and Harvard) as well as self-knowledge and interior growth. Separated now from most of her family, Westover seems to have secured a place where her own conflicting feelings and beliefs can coexist. With Educated, she has given readers an extraordinary — and extraordinarily intimate — gift.



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