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Tara Westover grew up in rural Idaho, the youngest of seven children born to parents who lived their own brand of Mormonism. Her father was a survivalist, sure that the government was out to get them. He considered himself a prophet of sorts, and he ran a junkyard where all of the children were put to work. Her mother became an herbalist and eventually started a business selling essential oils. Their home was a volatile, violent place where physical needs were often unmet.

Tara was “homeschooled” according to her parents, but she actually had very little schooling at all. Wanting more than the life of abuse and neglect she’d grown up with, she decided to teach herself enough to get to college. She took the ACT and enrolled in Brigham Young University when she was 17.

Getting into college was one thing, staying there was another. She was not prepared in any way for entering mainstream culture, even the conservative culture of BYU. Moreover, she had huge gaps in her knowledge of the world and its history.

Her fight to succeed was arduous and emotionally taxing. The strange nature of her family’s relationship to religion left her unable to embrace it at all. She came to see her parents’ failures as a result of her father’s mental illness.

Educated is an ode to the power of education. Her against-all-odds educational success (including a Ph.D. in history), makes for a gripping memoir, somewhat comparable to Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle. (Random House)

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