Educated is a 2018 best-selling memoir by Tara Westover. The book chronicles Westover’s journey as she leaves the remote mountains of Idaho to find education and understand her history.
The purpose of our Book Club Guides is to recommend books for your book club and provide guidance for discussion. This book guide focuses on Westover’s 2018 book Educated.
Review: Plot, Pros and Cons
The book begins with Westover’s childhood in a remote area of Idaho. She and her family live near the mountains, the centerpiece of which is Buck’s Peak.
The family spends much of their time preparing for the end times — the Days of Abomination, the apocalypse, whatever you’d like to call it. They spend time preparing to survive when the “World of Men” would fail. Westover describes “summers bottling peaches and winters rotating supplies,” preparing emergency bags, gathering weapons, and so on.
Along with this preparation, Westover describes the family’s goal of living without any government influence. They refrain from phone and television service (for a while), shun the medical establishment, and don’t send their children to school. From an early age, Westover realizes they are different from other families. She realizes she is different because she doesn’t go to school.
Westover explains what this is all like as she’s growing up. Her mother works as a midwife and healer. Her father works construction projects and collects scrap to sell. The children’s schooling is left largely up to them, and they end up spending more time out helping their father (which results in many terrifying accidents) than they do learning about math or history. The relationships between the siblings grows complicated as well, varying between friendliness to indifference to physical abuse.
Of course, as a child, Westover doesn’t question this life. But to someone who grew up outside of it, the book reads more like fiction than memoir.
As she grows older, Westover begins to wonder about aspects of her family life. Her horizons begin to broaden through dance classes and local plays. She meets some other kids in town. Seeing outside her world begins to give her a new view of it — she glimpses the cycle of neglect and abuse she’s endured.
Westover soon decides she wants to go to college. She describes her struggles applying for, getting into, and beginning her life at Brigham Young University. She copes with adjusting to a traditional classroom environment, as well as interacting with her peers.
Eventually, Westover’s education progresses, and she moves on from BYU. Her pursuit of education takes her to the University of Cambridge and Harvard University. She travels the world, expands her knowledge, and discovers much about herself.
However, the ties to family and Buck’s Peak don’t break easily. Even as she find success in the academic world, Westover still grapples with her family relationships back home. By the time the book comes to an end, there is some closure, but her story continues.
Educated is an incredible book. Westover’s story is both inspiring and heartbreaking. It’s one of the most interesting memoirs out there. It’s well worth reading, for book clubs and individuals.
Here we have some discussion topics and questions for your book club. They’re not too specific, so as not to spoil any of the book for those who may not have finished it yet.
- What is your opinion of homeschooling? Is it an effective way to educate children? Why or why not?
- When Westover arrives at college at BYU, she struggles to adjust both inside and outside the classroom. How did her upbringing — primarily the absence of public education and socialization — leave her unprepared to function in the “outside world?”
- Once she’s in college and begins learning about psychology, Westover begins to question her father’s mental health. Discuss this realization and how she grapples with it.
- Westover’s mother makes her living as a midwife and healer. She spends her life caring for others, yet she didn’t (by her own admission, according to the book) provide enough care and protection for her own daughter. Discuss this disparity.
- Westover has very different relationships with her six siblings. Discuss how the different relationships affect her life.
- Westover is constantly at odds with her parents, who don’t agree with her decisions. Is it the parents’ job to support their child under any circumstances? Or is it the right of the parents to disapprove and distance themselves from their child? Why?
- Westover’s professor Dr. Kerry says, “You are not fool’s gold, shining under a particular light. Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were.” Discuss this assertion.
- Westover writes, “The distance — physical and mental — that had been traversed in the last decade nearly stopped my breath, and I wondered if perhaps I had changed too much. All my studying, reading, thinking, traveling, had it transformed me into some who no longer belonged anywhere?” What do you think?
- Westover states that the book is not about Mormonism. While this is true, religion plays a significant role in the story. Discuss the impact religion has on Westover, her family, and community.
- The book may be finished, but the life of the Westover family continues. How do you think the release of this memoir has affected the Westover family?
Overall, Tara Westover’s memoir Educated is an incredible read. From her childhood in Idaho to renowned Cambridge and beyond, her story is truly moving. Between the engrossing story and issues that arise, Educated is a great choice for your book club. It’s a great choice for any reader, in fact.
Have you read Educated? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!
Happy reading! Cheers!