Educated Summary

Educated by Tara Westover is a 2018 memoir about the author's path from growing up on an isolationist Mormon compound in Idaho to becoming a Cambridge-educated academic.

  • The Westover family lives a remote, rugged, orthodox-Mormon existence in Buck’s Peak, Idaho.
  • Tara's brother Shawn returns home and takes an interest in Tara, but he often behaves in physically and emotionally abusive ways.
  • At her brother Tyler’s encouragement, Tara enrolls at Brigham Young University, and her worldview expands greatly.
  • As Tara pursues her doctorate at Cambridge, her tensions with her family reach a breaking point.


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Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1300

Educated is a coming-of-age memoir in which the author, Tara Westover, describes overcoming a variety of familial, environmental, and personal obstacles to achieve a hard-won education.

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When the memoir begins, Tara is seven years old. Her family lives on an isolationist compound in Buck’s Peak, Idaho, where they operate under her father Gene’s strict interpretation of the Mormon doctrine. He forbids his children from attending school or engaging with modern medicine and allows them to be homeschooled only to the extent that it does not affect their daily labor. Gene is deeply paranoid about the outside world, the government, and the coming apocalypse, and he focuses his family’s energy on preparations for a future economic collapse. As part of their ongoing goal of self-sufficiency, the family preserves food, recycles scrap metal, and Tara’s mother, Faye, begins to train as a midwife.

Tara’s family life is raucous and chaotic, but she finds rare moments of peace with her older brother Tyler. In contrast to the chaos of the rest of the family, Tyler is thoughtful, patient, and organized, and he diligently teaches himself from any borrowed texts he can find. It's Tyler who introduces Tara to music for the first time, sparking her lifelong love of singing. Tyler offers Tara a rare glimpse of the world outside Buck's Peak. When Tyler announces that he plans to leave the family compound to attend college at Brigham Young University, Gene is livid and Tara is heartbroken. “College is extra school for people too dumb to learn the first time around,” Gene tells her. Still, Tara begins to tentatively explore Tyler's educational materials in his absence. Eventually, she, too, begins to wonder about school.

With Tyler gone, the younger Westover children are given an increased role in Gene's scrap yard. Tara attempts to wear gloves and a hard hat in order to protect herself from the roughness of the work, but Gene takes them away, reasoning that they will only slow her down. As she spends more time in the yard, it becomes clear that her father's single-mindedness comes at the expense of the family's safety. Tara sustains several injuries in the course of her work, and her brother Luke eventually fares even worse. When he comes down from working on the mountain with one leg almost entirely burned, Tara—still just ten—is the only one available to treat the wound. Barring any formal first-aid training, she fills a garbage bin with water and puts his leg inside.

Though Luke does slowly recover from his injuries, Tara begins to see the danger inherent in working for her father and decides to seek work outside the house. Through one of her babysitting jobs, Tara meets her first piano teacher and, later, a voice coach. One Sunday, with her coach's encouragement, Tara is asked to sing a hymn in front of the congregation. Her performance is well received, and the Westover family is inundated with requests for Tara to perform. For the very first time, Gene is visibly proud of his daughter and encourages her to pursue her talents.

When the family suffers a serious car accident, Tara's older brother Shawn comes home to help keep the business running. Tara doesn't know him...

(The entire section contains 1300 words.)

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