The Millions

Books Were Not Tricks, and I Was Not Feeble: On Tara Westover’s ‘Educated’

Tara Westover’s memoir Educated traces her evolution from the youngest child of seven in an Idaho family of Mormon fundamentalists to a cosmopolitan scholar of history in London. Through grit and bootstrapping, she leaves behind her homesteading, unschooled life by teaching herself enough math and grammar to pass the ACT and steps foot into a classroom for the first time as a freshman at the Latter Day Saints’ Brigham Young University. Her story is one of learning to question one’s given reality, and it also gives us the first real insight into an American subculture that is both extreme in its views and growing in popularity as it overlaps other fringe movements.

When she was a child, Westover’s father, Gene, espoused an absolutist libertarianism and paranoid end-of-days version of Mormonism, which entirely shaped her worldview. Her mother, Faye, was her father’s willing helpmeet: a lay midwife, herbalist, and then essential oils bottler who was equally committed to her husband’s ideology against government, education, and modern science. I first came across essential oil promoters in a mama-and-baby’s group at my local yoga studio, and I’ve since seen them pushed as both a money-making endeavor and a general cure-all on “crunchy mama” blogs.

I am generally—at least philosophically, if not in actual practice (hello, C-section, daycare, and supplemental formula)—in line with the all-organic, homemade, breastfeeding ethos of this brand

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