A remarkable read about a young girl growing up in a fundamentalist Mormon family who prepared for the end of the world, believed that the government and health professionals weren’t to be trusted and that education should only come from home-schooling.
How Tara Westover achieved her education without stepping into a classroom until she was in university is quite incredible.
But this memoir is more than her struggle and achievement towards education. It’s a journey to understand her family and her place in it after she learns how to think and question and challenge her family and the way they live.
As a small child, Tara is home-schooled, learning to read and write mostly from the bible. When she’s big enough she is enlisted alongside her other siblings, seven in all, to help out in her fathers scrapping junkyard. Her father knows nothing of safety and when he threw scraps of metal Tara made sure she got out of the way. Indeed, the accidents on the site made for harrowing reading: her brother Luke’s burning leg, another brother, Shawn who fell from a great height, her mother’s head injury after a motor vehicle accident where seat belts weren’t worn and finally her father’s own horrific accident where he almost died. What was even more horrifying was the parents’ belief that the injuries could be dealt with at home from faith and herbal remedies. Doctors were never visited and hospital was out of the question. Tara herself suffered as well.
“My back struck iron: the trailers wall. My feet snapped over my head and I continued my graceless plunge to the ground. The first fall was seven or eight feet, the second perhaps ten.” Of her mother’s reaction to her fall? “She rested her left hand lightly on the gash and crossed the fingers of her right. Her eyes closed. Click, click, click. ‘There’s no tetanus,’ she said. ‘The wound will close. Eventually. But it’ll leave a nasty scab.’
As Tara grew into her teens, she realised her place as a woman in the family and outside of it. She was constantly reminded of her place in the kitchen by her father. A loving relationship between her and her older brother Shawn turned sour and violent in her teen years scarring her physically, emotionally and mentally. The terrifying violence was made all the sadder because Tara and her family cover for Shawn. When she questions it as she grows older and challenges what he has done, the family turns against her.
It’s a sad story but also an uplifting one as Tara makes her way in the world without the shackles of her gaslighting family. You could mistake her childhood memories as being inaccurate or exaggerated, but she has verified her memories with those of her older brothers, Tyler, Richard and Tony. They made their way out on their own and have been supportive of her.
This is an extremely well written and impactful story detailing a life not in the 1800’s but in the last thirty odd years. An incredible read.