In the shadow of a lonely Utah mountain, Tara Westover sits in rapture as her devout, end-is-nigh father prepares his family for the doom God will bring.
Tara has never attended school and has no birth certificate until she turns 10. Her education is scrapping metal in a junkyard, gathering herbs for home medicines, stockpiling gold, food and petrol for the end of the world. All the while emotional manipulation, violence and harrowing events force her to reflect on the judgements and beliefs of her family.
Eventually, Tara strikes out on in search of higher education. First her state university then across the ocean to Cambridge where she receives her PHD. Despite this, family ties lure her back again and again, culminating in a heartbreaking realization and an ultimate decision.
Her memoir is not only about education, but about choice. Each choice forces her to choose between desires: her parent’s desire for her to be a good Mormon woman and obey the rules of God and men or her own desire to learn more and trust in herself.
Tara is eloquent and poised; a skilled writer. Yet as she looks back with different eyes the anxiety, fear and isolation feel as fresh as the day it was born. Subject and style work in tandem, creating a captivating narrative of a life wholly different from those who would read this.
There have been many memoirs written on the struggles of family, but Westover’s rises to the realms of Janette Walls or Cheryl Strayed where it will linger as a classic.
This is not pulp. This is a chance for the reader to be educated.
Reviewed by Kelsey Ward