Educated, by Tara Westover

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Five stars, read in April 2019.

There was a lot about this that was depressingly familiar to me. I grew up in the same religion as Tara, though her family believed in it much more literally than mine did. Relatedly, her childhood was more violent than mine was; my version of the story is mostly psychological where hers is physical. Based on whatever dates she gives in the book, though, I think she and I were at BYU at the same time, which makes me a little jealous about how differently our lives have turned out.

I feel like books are always about understanding, as though once two people understand each other, all the problems between them will go away. Mother/daughter stories like Amy Tan’s, parent/child stories in general. And I get that, I think there’s a place for it, especially if they’re well done like Tan’s books always are.

But I wonder if I’ll ever come across a book that resolves the story by having the protagonist realize it’s time to move on, set boundaries, or even cut ties with a parent—that in some cases, understanding isn’t enough to bridge fundamental differences in personality and worldview. Sometimes gaining understanding doesn’t bring you together, but in fact makes you realize that you are fundamentally incompatible as people. Sometimes—often, even—parent/child relationships are really unhealthy. Sometimes parents are bad for their children, and it would be better for the children to separate from them. Do those stories exist, too? Why don’t I ever seem to find them?

This book should have ended that way, but I think it’s too recent a story to have real closure. I heard a coworker say that what she “learned” from the book was something about how Tara still loved her family through it all, and I wish I could have said honey, you learned the wrong damn thing. That was not the takeaway from this book.

That’s the problem with stories like this, though; because they’re about the extremes of religion, I think people read with a sort of disclaimer in their heads. This isn’t regular Mormon life, this is a crazy version that doesn’t have anything to do with what “real” Mormons believe. Except the thing that makes this version “crazy” is just that they believe in it more literally than “regular” Mormons. They are right, in their twisted way, that they are more faithful than mainstream Mormons. They are more devout, more willing to live the literal religion without the accommodations most people make for modern life. That’s really the only difference.

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