In many ways, Tara Westover’s memoir reminded me of J.D. Vance’s, “Hillbilly Elegy.” Instead of hillbilly’s and Appalachia, replace these elements with fundamentalist Mormons and Idaho and you have almost a perfect crossover. Almost.
Tara Westover grew up in the junkyard in rural Idaho. She did normal activities as a child, but what wasn’t normal was she didn’t attend school. Her father had such a hatred and fear of the government, he did not allow the children to visit the hospital, get a birth certificate, or go to school. Instead, they “homeschooled” their children, which was akin to allowing them to read dated text books.
Tara managed to learn what should could. Later in her teens, she was the victim of abuse from her brother and needed a way out. She took the ACT’s to get into Brigham Young University; she was accepted and experienced some of the most savage culture shock of her life. When a slide in her Western Civilization Class had a word she didn’t recognize, she asked the professor what it meant, to their horror. It turns out the word was “Holocaust.”
This story is compelling, brilliant, and demonstrates the power of an education. This isn’t so much a spoiler, but if you wouldn’t like to know, cease reading now!:
Tara goes on to get her Master’s Degree from Columbia and Ph’D from Cambridge. This is awe inspiring to me. Along the way, much happens that Ms. Westover deals with and, in some ways, is still dealing with. But one thing is for sure: she rests on the fact that through her education, she has put in the blood, sweat, and tears to understand the world better; she has questioned and demanded more of the university system then most people have or ever will; she values her education because she understands what it means when you don’t have good influences that help you attain factual knowledge. It seems to me that more people need to emulate such attributes.
I really enjoyed this book. I think it’s one of the best I’ve read this year, so far.