Book column: “Educated” by Tara Westover

By Lorna Hollifield

Some would say that the memoir “Educated,” by Tara Westover, is a story about a girl who escapes radical survivalist parents to beat the odds and obtain a Ph.D. from Cambridge. But to me, that’s just the amazing outcome. It isn’t what the “story” is actually about. I find myself instead reeling from this passage from the book: “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.” There’s your summary; those hard-hitting, simply put, atomic lines.

“Educated” is a creatively written autobiography about an extraordinary woman with no formal primary education who went on to do great things because she first did the bravest thing of her life. She defied her family, trusted her gut and got out. She didn’t do what was expected of her; she did what she wanted for herself.

Most of us did not grow up in a Mormon fundamentalist family in “Nowhere,” Idaho, like the author. Most of us were offered at least public education and basic human needs, again, much unlike Tara Westover. Therefore, not all of us will relate to the severity of her condition, but we will instead be inspired by her will to overcome it. However, I think we all absolutely will relate to the struggle of having to disappoint someone in order to reach our goals.

We love our crazy families (and let’s face it, there’s always a little crazy in the best of them). We love our mothers who forced us to do pageants against our wills and our fathers who made us take those painstakingly boring golf lessons. We love the people who held us to impossible standards, or those who thought we weren’t capable of achieving anything at all. It’s different for all of us. Some of us have had to break out of poverty, put ourselves through school and become doctors from a family of factory workers. Others have had to break the Harvard legacy to move to Nashville and sing country songs while eating ramen for a decade. It’s always different. But the point is that to achieve your unique brand of greatness, you’ve had to shatter someone else’s idea of who you “should” be along the way. It’s a decision that’s so much easier said than done because, like Tara Westover, you love whatever flawed situation you come from. It could be minor or major flaws. It could be as small as being a tomboy always arguing with a prissy mother or as serious as being abused. But breaking free of whatever it might be that’s holding you back is hard every single time because of the love.

Love leads to loyalty, which leads to allegiance, which, if followed blindly, can sometimes lead to unhappiness. Sometimes there comes a moment when we have to disappoint someone we still feel love for because they are toxic to our well-being and potential for real joy. Familial love is one of the strongest forms, and perhaps one of the most likely to come with imperfections.  Tara Westover shows us that to recognize those imperfections does not mean we don’t love our families, but it might help us to save ourselves.

If you’re looking for that dare-to-be-great moment in your life or the courage to finally conquer that thing your soul wants, then it is a great time to read “Educated.” This author knows your struggle and will help you find your strength to step away from whatever person, mindset or situation is holding you back. She has blazed a trail with this novel, never hating those who pinned her down, never losing her grace. She just chose to act, and then wrote down what it takes to encourage that girl boss inside of you, the one clawing to get out, to do just the same. This one is a must-read, and it might just change your life. It might help you realize that the best thing you will ever accomplish … is becoming a huge disappointment to someone else.