This book blew my mind. I think I finished it in 3 days. On first picking it up, I hardly set it down thereafter. Tara, the author, grew up in a childhood that was otherworldly. Removed entirely from the traditional education system. Survivalist, removed from much of society, isolated to a large degree, and kept within the narrow confines of their small world. This aptly displayed on Tara arriving at college and not knowing what the Holocaust is, nor Napoleon, nor the fact that Europe isn’t a country.
Yet regardless, its obvious to both the reader and those surrounding her that Tara is wildly intelligent, curious, and laden with potential. She just needs to break free from the strongholds of her family, which stunt and even halt her potential for growth.
From her father, who is mentally ill, delusional, abusive, and puts Tara in continually dangerous situations, many of which lead to her being injured when working on his construction site alongside him. To her mother, who is equally delusional, as well as lacks agency or any sense of backbone, allowing her husband to continually abuse their children, as well as her. And then to Tara’s brother, who becomes a menacing, horrible man, physically and sexually abusive to Tara, as well as the woman he will eventually marry.
Throughout her childhood, Tara’s education is essentially limited to the Bible and a picture-laden science book. The bulk of her and her siblings time is spent helping their parents work, either on their dads construction site, or assisting their mother with her herbal concoctions, healing the sick, and birthing children.
Eventually, Tara’s older brother, with whom she shares a special connection, begins reading a lot of complicated and meaty books. He is preparing to go to college, despite their parents fierce objections. Tara decides on doing the same, inspired and motivated by his courage and initiative, as well as his encouraging her to do so. She begins learning, in her own words, “the patience to read things I couldn’t yet understand.” This would be a crucial thing, to the direction her life would take in the near future.
Tara takes the ACT and gains admission to Brigham Young University. Then eventually to Harvard, and then to Cambridge for her PhD. All despite her fathers fierce objections along the way. The scenes of which, her time at Cambridge, glitter, are emotionally poignant, triumphant, while still we yearn for her to break free of her family entirely. Despite that there is physical distance between them, their hold on her, still, like a siren call. One that allures and draws her, out of a mixture of guilt, shame, and even love for them, though which she knows isn’t good for her.
Her family flat out refuses to protect her, to stand up against her brothers brutality and still blatant physical and even sometimes sexual abuse towards her. They oscillate between saying she is lying, to believing her but brushing it off with compassion for him, that he “has issues.” Her father continues to be an oppressive, constraining, tyrannical force toward Tara as well.
At the end of the story, finally, she is able to break free of them. Making the crushing choice that far more of us are faced with than is talked about in our culture: having to let go of a parent. Parent loss by crushing choice.
While our heart aches with empathy with her, we feel a surge of triumph and joy for Tara, knowing that while heartbreaking, that this is a wound that will never fully heal over, the loss of someone as poignant as a parent, this is an unavoidable and necessary thing for the trajectory of her life going forward.
This book is not only phenomenally written, the story is gripping, emotionally moving, inspiring, just incredible. Educated is exceptional.