There are some retrospective memoirs that make you forget you are not reading fiction. Such is the case with Tara Westover’s Educated. Westover leads the reader through her unconventional childhood in rural Idaho with a fundamentalist family, led by an increasingly paranoid father. It’s a glimpse into extreme separatism that Westover reveals piece by piece, as her changing worldviews start to put her at odds with the rest of her family.
Throughout the memoir, we witness Westover survive physical trauma at the hands of her own siblings, rejection, and pain; eventually, we get to see her gain freedom and find her voice. Educated is a fascinating look at a slice of America that most readers will find foreign.
These Educated book club questions will help readers dig deeper into the heavy issues Westover covers in her memoir. This discussion guide for Educated also includes a synopsis of the story, selected reviews, and 3 books like Educated to add to your TBR pile.
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Educated, Tara Westover
Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life.
Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.
10 Educated Book Club Questions
- As Tara began to question her family’s beliefs, she was basically excommunicated. Sometimes, growing means letting go of people or places that are important to us. Have you ever had to make a choice between people from your past and goals for your future?
- It would be easy to dismiss Westover’s family as bizarre or dangerous — but young Tara also loves her family and her home deeply. It’s complicated, to say the least. What are some aspects of your family and childhood that outsiders might find strange, but which you found normal?
- Tara’s mother, Faye, bucked her family’s wishes to marry Gene. What do you think appealed to Faye about Gene? Have you ever gone against your family or friend’s opinions in the name of love?
- Since Westover is writing this as an educated adult, she has the benefit of hindsight. She rarely presents her family as one-dimensional, and instead digs deep into the likelihood that many of them suffered from serious mental illness.
Was mental health something openly discussed in your family growing up? Is it a topic of conversation in your family and friend circles now?
- Westover manages to get into college, even without a formal education. Her early college experiences were shocking. There is so much she doesn’t know about the world. What were some of the “worldly” things that Tara was surprised to learn? Have you ever been in a situation so foreign that you felt as Tara did?
- So much of the book is about Tara’s relationship with her father. But, how did her relationship with her mother shape her to be the woman she becomes?
- Seeking formal education is an act of rebellion in Westover’s family. But young Tara’s desire to study evokes a very different reaction than her brother Tyler’s. Compare the family’s different responses. Why do you think they reacted the ways they did?
- Shawn’s behavior was dangerous and abusive. Where do you think this behavior came from, and what do you think about the family’s complicitness in it? How did Shawn’s abuse change the way Tara felt about men?
- After Westover released Educated, some of her family members took issue with her accounts of events. Do you think there is any such thing as a “true” memoir? When you think about your own childhood, do you think your memories are accurate? If not, why not?
- The movie rights to Educated haven’t been sold (yet). If Educated were turned into a movie or streaming series, who would you cast for the roles of Tara and her family?
Selected Reviews for Educated
Educated made many top 10 lists the year it was released–the memoir currently has a 4.5/5 star rating on Goodreads. Here are some selected reviews from readers:
Bill Gates (yes THE Bill Gates) said of the book, “Educated is an amazing story, and I get why it’s spent so much time on the top of the New York Times bestseller list. It reminded me in some ways of the Netflix documentary Wild, Wild Country , which I recently watched. Both explore people who remove themselves from society because they have these beliefs and knowledge that they think make them more enlightened. Their belief systems benefit from their separateness, and you’re forced to be either in or out.”
“Difficult to read. Impossible to put down. A powerful, powerful book that you shouldn’t miss…it sounds odd to say how beautifully written this is because we are not spared of the ugly details of what this family was about…I had to remind myself at times that I wasn’t reading a gritty novel, that Tara and her family were real as I got more than just a glimpse of a life that was hard for me to even imagine.”
“I am in the minority on this one, but this did not blow me away. I wanted to read this after seeing so many high ratings. I was expecting to love this book but ended up feeling meh about it. I actually wanted to hurry the book up in parts and other times found it to be a little repetitive. There were other times I wanted her to go into more detail or explain things more”
3 Books like Educated
I am Malala, Malala Yousafzai
At the age of 16, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. In her book, she brings the reader along on her incredible journey. Malala grew up with a father who ran a school, and she loved learning, but when the Taliban took over part of Pakistan, girls’ education was banned, and Malala and her family risked their lives to stand up against the regime.
Malala’s voice is filled with bravery and determination as she tells her story and strives to bring more awareness to the importance of accessible education for all.
The Less People Know About Us, Axton Betz-Hamilton
Another memoir about an isolated family–but this time, the roots of the isolation are very different. The author’s family experienced identity theft (way back before it happened every other day). The result created a severe instability within the family and Betz-Hamilton’s upbringing.
Part true-crime, part coming-of-age, this book also falls into the category of “non-fiction so shocking, you can’t believe it’s real.”
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, John Krakauer.
When the mainstream LDS church (the Mormons) ended their practice of polygamy, sects of independent fundamentalist LDS groups sprang up to continue it.
Released in 2003, this book traces the roots of these groups. It investigates a gruesome double murder committed in the name of God by two members of a fundamentalist, polygamist group.
And while Westover’s family didn’t practice polygamy, you’ll see similar strains of isolationism, paranoia, misogyny and Messiah complex in this story as well. Soon to be a streaming series on Hulu.
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