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Educated by Tara Westover: Summary, Quotes & Discussion Questions

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Educated is the unforgettable, thought-provoking memoir of a woman's formal and informal education growing up as the daughter of a fanatical, survivalist father.  It's the type of book that leaves the reader yearning for so much more, and it is definitely one of the best books set in school. So, you can get what you are looking for in the below post, Educated by Tara Westover: Summary, Quotes, Discussion Questions and Pairings.

Summary of Educated by Tara Westover

Educated is a #1 New York Times bestseller that was one of my favorite non fiction books of all time.

If you are doing a 50 States of America reading challenge, this also makes a great book for Idaho.

It's downright fascinating, whether you believe the many hyperbolic tales within it or not.  That's a loaded sentence, isn't it?  Below is my Educated by Tara Westover summary:

The book is a memoir by a woman who was raised in the mountains of Idaho as a member of a survivalist Mormon family. Her mother was a midwife and natural healer, and her father ran a junkyard. In his free time, he was a religious fanatic preparing for surviving an apocalypse. 

They didn't believe in doctors or hospitals, and they barely conducted homeschooling.  Tara didn't even have a birth certificate.  Tara's version of events was that, more or less, she began educating herself as a teen, and she first stepped foot into a classroom as a college student at Brigham Young University.  She later studied at Harvard.  In one of the most memorable scenes in the book, she asked what the Holocaust was during class.  

There were so many hard-to-believe tales in this book that they were, well, somewhat unbelievable.  There were times in which Tara even admitted her family remembered these tales differently and so, the reader was left trusting an unreliable narrator.

That being said, Tara did not come across as a liar to me -- she seemed to just remember what she remembered how she remembered it.  And there was so much trauma in this book, from surviving the family's survival of horrifying accidents and injuries to Tara and her siblings falling prey to an abusive older brother, that I wondered how PTSD may have affected what was remembered -- and perhaps even not remembered --in the writing of this story.  

I viewed Tara and her siblings as victims of abuse at the hands of a mentally ill father. I saw much of Educated the same way, and Tara did delve into how mental illness may have played a role in her upbringing.

That being said, it seemed to me that Tara had to have received a better childhood education than she let on.  I found it hard to believe she picked up calculus on her own as a teenager and breezed right into a well-respected institution and, later, one of the most well-respected institutions in the world. 

And every time she was miserably failing a class, she somehow miraculously finished with an "A."  I had a hard time reconciling that aspect of this memoir. 

I also couldn't figure out whether modern amenities like cars and telephones and computers were forbidden in the family.  They seemed to appear without a struggle from her fanatical father throughout the book.

As Tara grew up and left the confines of her home, she was torn between choosing her family and finding herself, which could not co-exist.

Of note, Educated did not seem to aim to disparage the Mormon religion, and I personally did not take that away from this book or form any such negative opinions from reading it.

No matter your opinion on what's "true," Educated is guaranteed to make you think and leave you gasping.  Educated is, quite simply, difficult to read and impossible to put down. 

Quotes from Educated by Tara Westover

Below is a compilation of thought provoking quotes from Educated:

First find out what you are capable of, then decide who you are.

- Tara Westover

The thing about having a mental breakdown is that no matter how obvious it is that you're having one, it is somehow not obvious to you. I'm fine, you think.

- Tara Westover

It's strange how you give the people you love so much power over you.

- Tara Westover

“You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them,” she says now. “You can miss a person every day, and still be glad that they are no longer in your life.”

- Tara Westover

My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.

- Tara Westover

Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind.

- Tara Westover

An education is not so much about making a living as making a person.

- Tara Westover

Discussion Questions for Educated by Tara Westover

Below are several Educated discussion questions I have personally created for your book club discussions:

Discuss one or more of the quotes above.

As I mentioned, there were so many hard-to-believe tales in this book that they were, well, somewhat unbelievable. What stories did you believe to be true?

Is truth in storytelling a matter of perspective, memory, or something else?

What are your thoughts on formal versus informal education?

If you feel comfortable doing so, discuss something about your family history that you were forced to overcome.

Would you be able to speak negatively about your own past in a memoir?

What, if any, parts of Westover's story had gaps in it for you?

Upon leaving your own childhood home for the first time, did anything surprise you as being different than how you viewed it growing up?

What, if anything, did you find to be positive about Westover's upbringing?

What can we learn from Westover's abuse by her brother, and how can we do better to recognize abuse and support abuse victims?

If you could ask Westover anything after reading her memoir, what would you ask?

What do you believe the future holds for Westover and her family?


For more book club questions:


Pairings for Educated

For more like Educated:


I hope you found this post about Educated by Tara Westover, with summary, quotes & discussion questions, to be helpful.

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