There are two sides to every story, and yet there can still be few answers to discern the truth. Many of us have read Educated, a memoir by Tara Westover, published by Random House. As of February 2020, it’s been on the New York Times best-seller list for two years and has been translated into 45 languages. It’s labeled as a memoir, a story of childhood abuse and the author’s remarkable rise in education, eventually earning her PhD despite a lack of formal education in her home growing up.
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UPDATE: Comments are turned off on this post. My intent is not to trash on Tara’s family. This is a book review. Over time, comments have simply rehashed certain opinions. If anything, the family could use prayers—all of them. Those are my thoughts and feelings–January 2023.
As you might imagine, from a parental and sibling perspective, Tara’s family is upset with the book being printed, with the story being told. In fact, they dispute much of what’s been written about them. Mother LaRee Westover has recently authored her memoir, Educating, to “tell the story of my life as I really lived it and not in the dramatically fictionalized way others, based on my daughter’s book, are telling it for me.”
Is Educated Based on a True Story?
Is it all true? That’s what I really wanted to know when I agreed to read LaRee’s memoir. Like many of you, I read Tara’s memoir, Educated, a couple of years ago and re-read it right after reading LaRee’s book–in preparation for this review.
To give you some perspective of the setting where both books take place and why I’m very much interested in them, you need to know that the Westovers are from Clifton, Idaho (population 301 in 2018). I grew up in the nearby community of Preston, Idaho (population 5,501 in 2018). The distance is about 12.5 miles, a 16-minute drive in southeastern Idaho.
Surprisingly, we don’t know each other and have never met. As you might anticipate, however, the Westovers and I know some of the same people, several of whom have reached out to me since Tara first published her book. These mutual friends have expressed concern that the memoir isn’t fully truthful and have asked me to take a look at both sides of the story.
When Educated first published I found reference to it online and read the tag about it being a true story of a Mormon from Idaho. Mormon is the nickname of my religion: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You might imagine I quickly clicked the book link and ordered my copy as my interest was definitely piqued. I knew nothing more about the book.
As soon as it arrived, I started to read and kept noticing similarities to my own hometown and wondered where everything was taking place. Tara’s book doesn’t clearly identify the setting as Clifton. Imagine my surprise, when at about two o’clock in the morning (yes, I couldn’t put the book down), I read “Worm Creek Opera House” on page 85. No town has a theatre with that awful name except Preston, Idaho!
Suddenly, I knew the book was about my community and possibly involved people I knew; the book became more personal and I wondered, Was the abuse I was reading about possible in such a tight-knit community? Why would a family from my religion do such things? I had so many questions. I was dumbfounded, perplexed, sad, and shocked. And yet I believed Tara must be telling the truth–at least to some degree. Some of what she shares is fact and can be proven. She also references her journal writings. Other content, however, is he-said, she-said and is noted with asterisks and tiny print or is admittedly retold from conversations with relatives later in life.
Is Educating Based on a True Story?
In her self-published memoir, LaRee and her husband, Val, make a point of telling us they are different, and they’re not afraid to be different. It says so in huge font on the back cover and is a pronounced theme throughout the book. They’re also proud that they don’t travel “the middle of the road,” doing things as many others do. Why do they emphasize these points? Because they often did and still do their own thing.
They homeschooled, which wasn’t a popular choice when they were raising children. They used homeopathic treatments for many of their ailments, even for serious injuries when most people would have immediately sought hospital care or a physician’s visit. LaRee practiced midwifery, without any kind of license or formal schooling, for years when it was legal in the state of Idaho and other states where she worked. (Practicing midwifery became illegal in Idaho in 2009.) She was the only midwife for miles around once her mentor and trainer moved. By their own admission, she and Val had different ideas–and stuck to them.
Trouble with Extended Family and Neighbors
Several chapters in the book admit the Westovers often didn’t get along with extended family and others in their community. Val was and is insistent that his beliefs and ideas are right. LaRee supports him. Much of her book repeatedly tells us what a wonderful, righteous man Val is: “One of the reasons I fell in love with Val all those years ago was his desire for righteousness.” One example, on page 100, explains his mindset and convictions: “Val discerns truth from sophistry better than any other man I know. He doesn’t abandon his ideals and opinions easily, as he worked too hard to arrive at them through study, pondering, and prayer.”
But those rigid thoughts and actions often created a chasm with extended family members. “Interactions with family,” LaRee admits, “sometimes caused trouble between Val and me and led to our children being exposed to slanderous stories about their father.”
Chapter 22 is dedicated solely to explaining family injustices. Val’s mother often disagreed with her son. She lived just down the hill from the family and was concerned about her grandchildren’s safety, education, and upbringing. “Long before the end of her life,” however, “she came to see the damage these tirades were causing and stopped,” LaRee writes.
Her parents also had a strained relationship with her because of Val. In fact, though her parents lived in nearby Preston, the Westovers didn’t visit often. “There were times when my family’s near constant censure triggered discouragement, nastiness, and whining in me.” LaRee continues, “I would become unfairly annoyed at Val and more frustrated, sometimes vocally, by his health issues.” Extended family spoke out when Val’s health prohibited him from working to sustain his wife and children. Other times family criticized when seeming luxuries were purchased: “They saw it as Val’s extravagance or his inability to put his family’s needs in proper order.”
LaRee sees Val in a different light. As a youth, she had experienced a troublesome, manipulative relationship with another young man. The book’s first few chapters go into detail about the experience. Her parents were concerned then, and their concern continued when she married Val: “Did Val, as my family claims, drag me against my will out of the middle of the road?” She says they didn’t. But LaRee spends a lot of book space telling us about the former dysfunctional relationship, and it’s confusing to a reader as to why, especially when her relationship with Val has been troublesome.
And what about relationships with the neighbors? In chapter 26: “People, Politics, and Persecution” LaRee tells us, “Our family had to bear the maltreatment meted out by those who were unwilling to make room for broader ways of thinking.” A journal entry from February 20, 2005, records the following: “The events of the past few weeks and the past day or two, particularly, have brought to my attention that nothing has really changed after all.” She continues, “The fact is, there are some neighbors who seem to dislike me for who I am and would likely feel no remorse for any amount of trouble and inconvenience they could cause me and mine, so long as they could do it legally.”
Val also remembers the family “going to church and sitting in an available pew and watching as people near us got up and moved away without speaking a word.”
Noted in the chapter are unpopular Westover debates regarding the upgrade of the town’s water system. “It was a rare month,” LaRee notes, “when the city council meetings failed to discuss what Val Westover was up to.” Then there was an eviction notice for a trailer they owned; reports of fire hydrants mysteriously being knocked over; zoning ordinances prohibiting home-based businesses, which the Westovers own; and fights for property rights.
Midwifery and Homeopathic Remedies
Five chapters are specifically devoted to these topics, in one form or another. These career choices are an important part of LaRee’s life, and she chooses to discuss them in great detail.
Understandably, she wants to represent the best side of her chosen profession as a midwife. She points out that in some rural areas, midwife deliveries may be the quickest option for healthy births. While that may be true, I can say the hospital in Preston, Idaho, where my youngest brother was born, is where many local deliveries occur. It’s located about 10 minutes from where we lived at the time and is probably about 20 minutes away from Clifton. I was born in the Logan Regional Hospital, which is about 45 minutes away. Nearby Pocatello, Idaho, has options as well to serve my hometown community.
LaRee mentions several books and courses she has studied to gain her knowledge and expertise in midwifery, homeopathic remedies, foot-zone treatments, and chakra methods. Years of experience and miracles in treating two family members with severe burns using herbal remedies and pressure-point healings provide testimonials for the products she uses and sells through her now multi-million-dollar company Butterfly Expression.
No scientific studies, however, with controlled environments, study groups, and supporting data were cited to prove successful treatments shared in the book. Therefore, medical opinions expressed in the book are anecdotal.
Medical resources, in LaRee’s opinion, are sometimes necessary. “Even though we grew into using herbal remedies almost exclusively, there were certain times when the expertise and counsel of medical personnel blessed our lives,” Chapter 16 tells of several instances where medical care was sought for Westover family members. “We do not consider the medical community to be the enemy,” she clarifies. There’s even a medical disclaimer in the front of the book, but throughout its pages, she tells over and over how her natural practices are better. She gives little credit to the medical community and medical advances.
LaRee attended Brigham Young University (BYU) for a time. Val also attended university. While at BYU, she began to explore the idea of home schooling while pursuing a degree in early childhood education. When she had children of her own, she first sent them to public school. Kindergarten was about 10 miles away, and it was hard for one of the first children to endure the bus ride.
Homeschooling the Westover children was met with opposition by the local school board and the state of Idaho. Both sets of grandparents also disapproved, but LaRee persisted with her goal. Initially, her homeschooling was structured much like public schooling but evolved to focus on a more relaxed, learning-together approach. She writes about all the hands-on, personalized lessons she prepared for the children, some of whom have special needs, and frequent trips to the town library.
She also encouraged older children to teach younger children (p. 93-94). With her busy career as a midwife and her own illnesses to tend, she was gone from the family often. This fact should be considered when Tara, the youngest of the children, insists she didn’t receive an adequate education growing up.
Unlike Tara’s recollections that there were no educational resources at home, LaRee insists they were stocked with a variety of books, an encyclopedia set, magazines, and “one of the first personal computers in our small town.”
Tara remembers the computer as having limited software options and no internet access. A photo in LaRee’s book shows a satellite-type dish installed on their home in the 1990s for internet services (p. 86). Tara was a junior at BYU in 2007. So the years indicate she would have had technology in the home for her studies if the service was current and paid for.
After a time, some of the Westover children chose to attend public school. Six of the seven children went on to receive more formal education, and three earned PhDs. Today, several of the Westover’s 36 grandchildren homeschool or have been homeschooled.
Key Topics from Educated That Are Missing in Educating
Tara’s written account has always bothered me from a journalistic point of view in that key discrepancies are admitted with an asterisk and tiny print at the bottom of the page. Yet her account is what’s written in the main text. It’s important to note that there are holes in her story. Sibling recollections of main events vary. It’s a fact noted in the memoir.
But it’s also key to note there are important facts that are irrefutable facts. And LaRee either doesn’t address them in her book or only mentions them briefly.
Why would you not get a birth certificate for some of your children?
The last four of the Westovers’ seven children did not receive birth certificates at birth. In the prologue to her book, Tara tells us: “We have no medical records because we were born at home and have never seen a doctor or nurse. We have no school records because we never set foot in a classroom.” She notes a few exceptions for medical treatment, but her point is that medical care was not often sought, though it was needed.
Tara was finally issued a Delayed Certificate of Birth when she was nine. Even then, there was a discrepancy on her birth date that had to be corrected. Her brother’s birth date was uncertain as well. Except for a tiny mention that you almost miss, LaRee doesn’t explain the why behind not getting birth certificates. Tara says it’s because her father suddenly decided to end his personal “ten-year policy of not registering with the Government” (p. 19).
Why didn’t Tara’s dad, Val, cooperate on key legal issues? Why did he isolate the family?
At one point, Val (pseudonym Gene in the book) refused to renew his driver’s license and insure their vehicles. He also didn’t allow his family to have a phone for years (see p. 29). While there’s nothing illegal about not having a phone, he cut off needed communication to the outside world. These are just a few examples of how Val and his family bucked the norm for years; Educated tells of more.
The Westovers may argue these are just minor details in the bigger picture of their story. But they are facts that indicate Val’s stubbornness and controlling nature, something Tara repeatedly brings up throughout her entire book. They might also help to explain the bigger picture of why there were and are so many Westover problems in the community.
Some of those problems may be legitimate; the family has an attorney they actively use. Val’s refusal to cooperate in these legal matters, which we all have to abide by, seems to be a direct result of what Tara tells us is his paranoia of the government and anything to do with it.
Why did Val insist on emergency preparedness for the “Days of Abomination”?
On page 8, Val is said to use the term Days of Abomination, which is not a term used in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s in Bible scripture, but it’s not how the church references The Last Days. Instead, the Savior’s Second Coming is something we speak often about at church and at home.
Though many of the events prior to His coming are prophesied in scripture to be frightful, there are also many beautiful things to come. We are taught to look forward, await His arrival with hope, and prepare ourselves spiritually. In physical preparation, church members are encouraged to gain a supply of food storage and necessities for emergencies. Nowhere in official church publications or talks is counsel given for the storage of ammunition and arms or the preparation of self-defense measures. In fact, we are counseled against it.
In LaRee’s writings, Val is portrayed as very religious and spiritual, but on this important issue, he does not follow church counsel. On page 9 we learn that the Westovers had a bunch of supplies ready in their “head for the hills” bags: ready-to-eat meals, herbal medicines, water purifiers, and more. These items can be good emergency essentials. But then Val comes home “with more than a dozen military-surplus rifles, mostly SKSs.” Tara then tells us the weapons and supplies were buried on their property for use when needed.
According to Tara, her father often frightens the family with accounts of someone named Randy Weaver and his family, who are purportedly being harassed by the government. A quick online search of the name and you learn that the Ruby Ridge standoff in Idaho is what’s being referenced. Some Weaver family members died in the 11-day siege with US Marshals. Val is convinced his own family will suffer similar fates, though the Ruby Ridge incident happened 618 miles away, if they don’t prepare for a government standoff.
Why was big brother Shawn (real name Travis) allowed to be such a bully to Tara?
In much of Tara’s book, she writes about physical harm he repeatedly inflicts upon her. She claims her mother saw it and her sister experienced abuse as well, though this sister later retracts her story. Tara also spots serious signs of abuse in Travis’s spouse and reports it to the family, causing another, huge family dispute.
The reader is confused, however, when Tara continues to spend time with Travis–alone. Yet, that is often typical behavior from a victim of abuse. They remember the good and love the person. So they go back.
LaRee admits, very briefly on one page, that “no one who knows Travis –not even Travis himself–will tell you that he doesn’t have a temper.” Even before experiencing a serious head injury, he had a temper.
“At times, Travis can be belligerent and obnoxious and intimidating” (p. 291). And then she goes on to praise him, referring to him as unselfish and deeply loyal. “Society has rightly taught us the value of watching for the warning signs of abuse,” LaRee states. “Even when looking specifically for it, I saw nothing that caused me concern.”
Mom’s light treatment of this matter is confusing and leaves the reader to suspect abuse did happen and is being ignored. Tara’s account is detailed enough to indicate there was a problem.
Why is the family junkyard business buried in Mom’s book?
LaRee occasionally references their previous family businesses, which Val operated for many years. She briefly mentions their “salvage yard business.” In contrast, Tara calls it a junkyard and tells us in great detail, and throughout much of her book, about her hard, often dangerous work there.
In fact, several serious injuries occur to all the siblings when machines malfunction or metal punctures a limb. As a reader, you become very concerned about what happens there. But LaRee avoids the topic for the most part and focuses almost exclusively on her midwife and homeopathic careers and on their current company Butterfly Expressions.
The family experienced two major car accidents, resulting in serious injuries. Val battles additional injuries and health concerns. Why was medical care not sought during these critical times?
According to Tara’s account, both car accidents occurred while returning home from Arizona visits to Grandma. At Val’s insistence, they leave late in the day, causing drowsiness while driving. In the first incident. Val was at the wheel. The second time, one of his sons was at the wheel.
In one of the crashes, LaRee hit her head against the windshield, resulting in “raccoon eyes” that Tara later realized are an indication of traumatic brain injury. LaRee reportedly suffered from severe migraines for years and retreated for hours and days at a time to the dark basement, seeking relief from additional pain experienced in daylight hours. Treatments included homeopathic remedies but no hospital visits.
Val and one of his sons experienced severe burns. Again, they were treated with herbal salves but no hospital care or western medicines for the pain. Miraculously, they both survived. Homeopathic remedies can be used in conjunction with other medical care, but the Westovers often chose not to pursue these options during their various illnesses and extensive injuries.
Both books address religion. Tara’s author note says, in part, “This story is not about Mormonism. Neither is it about any other form of religious belief.” As was noted earlier, the correct name of the religion is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The terms Mormons or Mormonism are nicknames and are not used as correct names by practicing church members. The longer name is correct and focuses on worship of Jesus Christ.
Tara herself is no longer an “active member,” which is a term used to denote someone who is no longer practicing the faith. However, one can be a “less-active member” or “nonmember” and still be considered a good Christian and a good person.
LaRee, Val, and family are reportedly active members of the faith. Throughout Educating, LaRee tells of spiritual promptings, priesthood blessings, temple attendance, answers to prayer, heavenly visitations, and faithful church attendance and gospel study.
To those who have not had such experiences or feelings, her testimony or beliefs may appear to be awkward and confusing. To those who have witnessed similar feelings and experiences, her accounts may still feel awkward and confusing. “The Spirit whispered reassurances and peace,” she says in one instance of true alarm while attending to serious burns at home (p. 246). She also notes that Val may have “pushed safety protocols somewhat as he is used to heaven’s protection” (p. 243). These are but a few of the many, many religious experiences LaRee shares in her book.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do experience blessings and miracles. So do people of other faiths and individuals who don’t practice religion. God loves us that much. He blesses us and we are counseled to share deeply spiritual experiences on a limited basis. Sacred experiences or received blessings are not to be used to establish credibility or enforce a point of conflict to prove that one’s differing thoughts or decisions are right.
As an adult, while on her own, Tara seeks therapy and medication for mental illness. She is open about the fact that she struggles with it and has experienced panic attacks and has been known to sleep walk.
In response to her daughter’s therapy sessions, LaRee feels there’s a “high likelihood the therapist was manipulating her memories” (p. 290).
Tara and LaRee have both studied and learned about mental illness and the symptoms thereof. Tara believes her father struggles with bipolar disorder. LaRee makes no mention of this but does say she has “seen depression up close and over extended periods of time, as well as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and very real cases of dissociative identity disorder” (p. 290). She says “opioid addictions, thyroid issues, and many other things contribute to or mask themselves as mental health disorders.”
Any careful reader of both books will see that mental illness appears to be a strong factor and should not be dismissed as a problem for the family.
According to my online research, LaRee founded her homeopathic company 22 years ago (also known as Butterfly Express) with her daughter Valaree. Per their website, “Butterfly Express, LLC manufactures, markets and sells essential oil and other products.”
They have received a warning letter from the FDA that their products are not to be advertised and sold as cures for Covid. The FTC has also issued a warning letter. Perhaps in response to these letters, their website now notes, “Butterfly Express does not make any claims about the use or effectiveness of our products.” The company reportedly has 25-30 employees (the number fluctuates according to online sources), many of whom are family.
According to The Preston Citizen, our local newspaper, the company is now owned by Val Westover (also see image above). “It enjoyed 30-50% growth annually annually until Educated was published.”
Until this point I have tried to remain objective. That is my job. But a book review, which I was asked by a family representative to do, requires an opinion.
No one, based on reading these two books, will be able to discern the absolute truth about what really happened to Tara growing up. It’s a he-said, she-said finger-pointing blame game. And it’s sad.
I do feel strongly that Val Westover has temper, control issues and untreated mental health issues. He now owns the business his wife and daughter started. The first thing you see in his wife’s memoir is his prologue. The letter I received (image above) is signed by him, not even a mutual signature.
Tara tells us in her book that she doesn’t want to see her father again. She needs to sever those ties to go on with her life–without his control. She has a right to refuse to see him. It’s sad that LaRee won’t see her own daughter without her husband.
LaRee has done her best to live in duress with a husband who has much more going on than the digestion health issues she keeps mentioning. Those are the least of his problems, from what I can see. Unfortunately, in her unfailing love and loyalty to her partner, I believe she has enabled him to continue on an unhealthy path that has caused their entire family to suffer extensively. She’s so loyal that she sticks with him even when he’s wrong.
I do think some of her homeopathic remedies could be helpful. I personally enjoy using aromatherapy and find some essential oils to be helpful. I think they should only be used as a supplement when treating serious illnesses or injuries.
As to the career of midwifery, I don’t have personal experience. When we lived in the Boise, Idaho, area some of our neighbors were involved in midwifery that ended in tragic results. In 2010, midwifery in Idaho became legal, requiring proper licensure. My own two deliveries ended up being long and complicated. I believe we would have lost my second son had we not delivered at a hospital and needed their NICU. There are pros and cons to using a midwife. It’s not on my personal radar, so I don’t research it.
Educating is the other side of the Educated story. LaRee’s desire is to go on educating, teaching about natural remedies and other things she deems important for her family and community. To me, both books together provide an opportunity for us to look at both sides of a story. In today’s world, where we are quick to jump to rash conclusions based on what we see on social media or in the news, we’d do well to remember that factual reports are open to interpretation. Consider the source. Be informed. Educate yourself.
Special thanks to Sue Larson who read both books, my review, and offered editorial insight and medical information I needed to know to better understand Educating.
***This article was originally published in October 2020 and updated February 2022 for SEO purposes.
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Launa Moser says
Well written and objective article. I too have received unbidden defenses in behalf of both sides. Thank goodness I don’t have to pronounce truth or fiction. I know from my own childhood experiences that events were viewed in a wide variety of “facts” depending on the viewer and their perspective. Sad that a family as been splintered. I understand the motive for the creation of Educating, but am at a loss for Educated. I believe it was well received in the literary world, but have an uneasy feeling it sprang from a toxic wellspring. I appreciate the insight from your perspective. Thank you for taking on this interesting task!
I appreciate your kind, respectful comment. I really hesitated to write this review, but once I accepted the opportunity, I spent hours re-reading and researching for it. The truth is messy in this one. But the mom’s memoir does not resolve anything. It raises more concerns, in my opinion.
WOW! This is such a thorough review and so insightful. What a tragedy the family has faced. So heartbreaking to hear what they have gone through and what they will continue to go through. You’ve piqued my interest, though.
Thanks for taking the time to comment. It’s sad to see any family struggle like this.
I applaud you for writing such review. While reading Educated somehow I felt Tara’s pain and got angry at times so much that I had to keep the book down. I couldn’t believe the ignorance and abuse. May be it was painful more since it was described in detail and worded so well. I don’t think I could read Educating after reading Tara’s book. Your review is quite insightful and gives the perspective. Thank you and very well done.
Thank you for taking the time to comment. I spent hours reviewing both books, to be as thorough as possible.
My husband is said that one of his professors was mentioned in the book (the one who encouraged her to study abroad in Cambridge), and in the class discussion over “Educated,” the professor talked about how the publishing company hired an attorney to fact-check everything that could be (as it is a memoir, there are some things that innately can’t be cross-checked, like getting Shawn’s testimony of the reported abuse. In these cases, they used Tara’s diaries from the time.) The professor himself was interviewed for this fact-checking and said that they covered absolutely everything, even asking him trivial details like if he had really “walked like a crab” on the roof of Cambridge like Tara described. In your research of both books, did you ever find out if if “Educating” went through a similar fact-check?
Educating went through no fact checking at all. It is self-published. About the fact checking of Educated, they missed some. I caught several minor errors in the description of the area (since I’m from there). I do feel Educated is more accurate, but her family disputes it aggressively, and there are variations of some of the incidents Tara mentions. I didn’t mention this in the article, but one of the brothers tried to refute some of the claims in a website he launched, but he was told to take it down by Tara or someone legally representing her. I think there are “fact” inaccuracies in both books, but I do think Tara’s version launches a pretty convincing case that some crazy things happened when she grew up. Her parents’ judgment was not ok in some cases.
What about Tara’s brothers Richard and Tyler. She says that she consulted with them about many of the memories in her book. Do they dispute her version? If they support her, that would add significant legitimacy to her account.
Good question! I grew up with one of the cousins. About a year ago, she shared with me an RSS feed to a blog written by one of the brothers. In it, he disagreed with specific things written in the book. He also said he had tried to make changes during the proof stage, but the publisher ignored them. I understand the blog is no longer online because he was legally told to take it down. So the url is no longer searchable. The blog exists but only if you have the RSS feed to it, which I don’t. Since it isn’t public information I didn’t mention it in the article.
What did one of the cousins tell you about the family?
Information shared with me from the cousin is confidential.
I’m in the middle of Educated. Don’t you think in any family if someone claimed abuse, that the family would deny it??
Jessie Shedden says
A fascinating read thank you! I come rather from Tara’s perspective after having escaped a cult 3 years ago and having written my own memoir, after losing everything including my family. I am happy to admit that when one is in that position it is very easy to give feelings over facts – because after all feelings are still valid.
My issue with Educating is that it smacks of everything those who opposed my memoir would do. Deliberate omission of information and distortion in an attempt to save face. The truth will always be hard to establish and despite my similarity of circumstances I understand the viewpoint through which Educating is written – unless LaRee is able to take a fully impartial view, her’s will always be skewed by the circumstances in which she is living – a world away from those Tara now resides in.
Thank you for taking the time to comment. Fortunately, Tara wasn’t escaping a cult, but she was certainly escaping a hard situation. It’s for that very reason that I’ve spent considerable time evaluating both books. Victims need to have a forum to speak out. I was initially hoping her mother would provide clarification, but her book does not do that. It was and is a difficult family situation. It’s my understanding that Tara does not retain a relationship with her parents, and I can understand her desire not to reconcile with them.
Are you familiar with what qualifies a group as a cult? I recommend learning about the BITE model, which defines cults and high-demand groups. Mormonism aligns with it to such a degree that if Tara were to claim she escaped from a cult, it would make perfect sense for that to be her experience. I recommend learning more about this before saying what is and is not a cult.
I’m a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormonism is a nickname. We are not a cult.
As a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I will tell you unequivocably that “Mormanism” is NOT a cult.
Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.
Agree. No matter how you slice the cake, a mother ignoring a daughter’s abuse is not okay, let alone the father and other family members enabling it to continue. Home-schooling really, seriously with no reference to outside, global events past, present and future. Let alone basic grammar. I guess people just read what they want to and see what they want to in order to support their own view of what they believe, it’s called gathering evidence to support their own viewpoint regardless of facts & evidence = dangerous.
LaRee does provide evidence in her memoir that she educated her children. She, herself, is educated. I think that trying to educate a lot of children PLUS perform midwife duties for too many years was simply too much. Perhaps her earlier children received an adequate home education. I don’t know. But I believe Tara when she says she did not receive much education at home. I simply don’t think LaRee was around enough to do it and was probably worn out. Those aren’t excuses, in my opinion. I believe they are further evidence that her later children weren’t taught adequately.
Morten Husom says
Thanks a lot for interesting perspectives. I have just read Educated. The part that frightens me most is the description of how the father (Val) justifies his opinions by claiming that God has revealed his will directly to him. I find this kind of spiritual hybris in strong opposition to the Scripture. Such claims have always been a weapon for spiritual ‘violence’ in order to suppress other people. So even if some details may be distorted, there is not much doubt in my mind that this kind of falsely using God as justification was taking place.
(comment from Norway..)
Thank you for commenting. Val’s claims are strictly his own. They are not taught by the religion to which he affiliates. So he’s adding his own insights and insisting upon them–even though he’s very wrong.
Thank you for your comments and opinion. I just read the book and since have been trying to reconcile all the emotional, and physical trauma this girl had to live with while growing up. I am also one that always wants to understand both sides of a story too. The more I have learned post reading the book, the more I think that Tara’s claim of her father’s mental illness is probably the truth and the seed for all the problems she and her siblings had to endure in their lives.
We all have known people who are mentally ill to some extent, and over 90% of the mentally ill don’t believe they are mentally ill. They think there is a problem with many of the people they have conflict with. Their lives are filled with conflict, but it is always someone else causing the conflict. This seams to be the truth with Val too.
I know of married couples who both are mental, with one being much worse than the other. I have often wondered if the less mental one had started out normal, but went mental after living with the other, after years of subjecting themselves to listening to the other, or did they start out with some mental illness, by not recognizing the crazy prior to their marriage?
It appears that LaRee is also on the crazy train too, but not to the extent that Val is, but I wonder what she was like as a 20 year old girl, and why she wanted to choose the life she choose? It is a shame that mentally ill people have children together, and 7 at that. I hope that Tara and her siblings can have peace in their lives and truly learn to deal with their childhoods in a manner that does not effect them forever.
I feel very bad that Val and LaRee have cast an unfavorable view on the Church of Jesus Christ, and hope readers of this book realize that fanatics exist in every religion, and that Val and Laree are extremists and not representative of almost all members of the Church of Jesus Christ.
Thank you for you writing about these two books.
Thanks for your comment. I should point out that the rift in the family does not include all the Westover children. Some of them still work for the family business and live close by. We’ll never know the full/true story here, but I have concluded that the family environment certainly wasn’t a healthy one.
This comment is distasteful and inaccurate. Mentally ill is a very broad term and includes illnesses like depression and anxiety, which many people suffer with and every one of us suffers through on occasion. To suggest mentally ill people should not have children and to call them “crazy” is extremely disrespectful.
In Val’s case, he has serious mental illness and I am under the impression that he suffers from schizophrenia or schizo affective disorder. This isn’t what you see in the movies. Instead of seeing people, the majority of psychosis involves hearing voices, the minority seeing physical beings. The onset is around mid 20’s for men but could be much sooner as well, which answers your question about marriage.
Using the word “crazy” is so hard to hear because it’s insulting to everyone with this illness even though it manifests in different ways. Many people with diagnosed schizophrenia that take medication early on and consistently never experience another psychotic episode again. Unfortunately, since Val was unmedicated, his actions to his family are abusive. Whether claims of him almost crushing her in the junk yard are true or not, his paranoia of the government and medical establishments created an unsafe environment for his family.
I enjoyed reading this article. I grew up Christian from Minnesota and went to school with many people that identified themselves as “Mormon” rather than the Church of Jesus Christ. It could be a location thing. This was the one thing I noticed that you couldn’t be impartial on, understandably so.
I believe Tara Westover’s story wholeheartedly, and her personal experiences are truly only her own to tell.
As a reader we witness her struggle with processing what is actual reality. We see that she has been conditioned over many years, to deny that her own feelings, perceptions and emotions are actually real and valid. We also witness her extreme shame and denial in her coping mechanisms of forcing herself not to acknowledge her own pain as over and over she is beaten and humiliated. Her nervous laughing to cover up a beating is evidence of her shame of what went on in the family and her efforts to prevent the exposure of this reality to the community. Her safety and her life were threatened many times by her father’s attempts to test God by commanding her, (and many of the family members), to carry out dangerous tasks in work or driving, without safety measures in place. All as a means to test God and to what limits their faith could sustain them.
Her deep processing of all that she endured including the intimidation, bullying, gaslighting, physical abuse, and manipulation is what led her to fight for her eventual triumphant escape in to a new life. I feel that her deep faith and respect for God our Creator is what cultivated in her the will to fight, and the fortitude to try to make sense of all that happened to her. She drew upon world history and the study of historians themselves, to make sense of other cultures and peoples. Ultimately her own personal journey was an exploration of life and faith. Her difficult journey and her deep faith in the face of adversity, has yielded within her blessings of comtemplation, scholarship, and knowledge of history, culture and human nature. We are witnessing the evidence of her truth in the fruits of her journey, the triumphant success of her career, her wonderful writing and advanced educational degrees. Her story was captivating and inspiring.
Thank you for sharing. Did you know I have a free Facebook book club? You might enjoy it. Look us up: The Book Club Ladies.
Really interesting review, thank you! I found Educated very interesting, understanding that with all memoirs, lots of it is left to the authors memories. I’m curious to read Educating now too! I want to say one small thing about midwifery. Home birth midwives with no training is very different than certified home birth midwives, who go through years of schooling and training. They are medical professionals who are qualified to deliver babies at home for women with low-risk pregnancies. They are trained to determine if there are any risks with the pregnancy that would require a hospital delivery. There are also certified nurse midwives who work in hospitals, this is incredibly common. So “midwifery” as a general term doesn’t distinguish between the differences between the various types of midwives. I am a labor and delivery nurse in a hospital, and unfortunately many of the complications we see in labor and delivery are caused by the hospital protocols and practices. I could go into lots of detail on this but I think it’s too long for a comment. Of course there are many legitimate complications that occur! But I firmly believe after years of working in delivery rooms in top hospitals that low-risk pregnancies are safer delivering at home. Just thought I’d add another perspective to that point. Thank you again for this thorough and thoughtful review.
Thank you for your comments. My low-risk pregnancies became complicated during delivery. I was very grateful to be in a hospital for both of them. But every woman and couple has to decide for themselves what’s right.
Thank you for writing this article. i found it very helpful and throughout. I read “Educated” for a Memoir class I am taking for my English degree, and wanted to learn what happened to the family. I saw that LaRee published “Educating” and was debating whether or not to buy and read myself, simply to see what she has to say and if it provided any clarification on WHY these events occurred. I might still read LaRee’s version, but now I’m glad I know not to expect much clarification at all.
I also appreciate that you were very fair in your analyzations and descriptions of each book, which can be difficult to do when they deal with such heavy topics.
Thank you so much for your kind words. I so appreciate it. I spent hours researching and writing that post. Best of luck in your class and pursuit of your degree. I, too, have an English degree.
May Schwab says
I just finished Educated and was researching more about the author. I was actually STUNNED to find her mother also wrote a book and STUNNED at the title. I was thinking about reading ‘Educating’ but I feel the decision to write that book and use that title honestly confirms the beliefs I made of “mother” after reading educated.
LaRee isn’t a bad person. She’s trying to do good things, but she’s misguided in many areas. I do not know her personally, but this is what I concluded after reading both books.
Naomi Bindman says
Thank you for your thorough and thoughtful review of both books. I especially appreciated your statement: “one can be a “less-active member” or “nonmember” and still be considered a good Christian and a good person.” I hope too that you may consider the possibility that one can be a non-Christian and still be a good person.
I came away from reading Educated with the feeling that Tara’s mother was the key person in that dynamic, the tragic figure who did not fulfill her potential, and did not protect her daughters from the abuse of which she could not have been ignorant. Reading your review and a bit of Laree’s book online, she reveals herself in a much less charitable light. You pinpoint what is uncomfortable about her account and her behavior in your statement, “Sacred experiences or received blessings are not to be used to establish credibility or enforce a point of conflict to prove that one’s differing thoughts or decisions are right.”
As to your concern that Tara uses footnotes to indicate where there is no one clear agreed upon account, I believe that in no way weakens the veracity of her narrative. As the author, Tara is entirely within her rights to simply present her own point of view: it is her memoir. A memoir is a work of memory. She is not required to obtain approval from her family. As an academic, she has gone above and beyond the standard for memoirs by including the possibilities of others’ recollections differing from her own.
Thank you for your comment. Of course, nonmembers are good people too. I was merely commenting within the realms LaRee had established.
Lori Ringhand says
Many families have dysfunctions but this situation shows a lack of empathy within the family.
It seems that the mother refuses to meet her own daughter – that says it all.
I understand the desire to be off grid and out of government structures but the protections seem to be lost and the exposure of the family to danger seems unforgivable.
I worked for a number of years in Idaho and really thought it wonderful living there.
I had many friends including some in the church of the LDS so I have some appreciation of the nature of the environment social and geographical. It therefore makes me sad to hear of such discord.
I am also saddened by the environmental degradation caused by the family and one would expect that those proposing natural remedies would also wish to live in an environmentally harmonious manner. It does seem that we are custodians of the environment and need to look after it.
It is also interesting that the business was built taking plants by robbing nature and now I think it is just international trade in chemicals which drives it.
How much nicer it would be if the plants were being cultivated by the proprietors so there was a sustainable business which could be a credit to Idaho rather than controversial.
Agreed. Thank you for your comment.
I think that if anything Educating proves how overtly Tara’s parents didn’t care for her and won’t recognize the years of abuse they were willing to put their children through in the name of God. Tara’s story cannot be discounted on the basis of a memoir written by a survivalist cult-like Morman family that allows their children to be abused and in the case of Travis abuse others. Was saddened to see how much power you felt to relinquish over to the Westover parents, doubting the fact-checked memoir written by a victim of domestic abuse and to an extent rewarding two mentally ill abusers who are trying to cash out and save face on their own misdoings by self-publishing their book.
You misread my review. I don’t “relinquish (power) over to the Westover parents” at all.
David S says
Hello… I have a question about the “Princess” .. Tara describes a geographic feature that’s observable from their home (and maybe throughout most of the area around their home and the nearby town). At different times of the year “the Princess” is hidden by snow and by spring the form of an Indian Princess emerges from the landscape features. Are you familiar with the feature? Seems like this is similar to seeing certain features in clouds.
I’ve looked at satellite imagery on Google Maps but I can’t definitely pinpoint the feature.. although I’ve spotted something that might be the Indian Princess.
Educated was a very good book. I feel she probably suffered much physical abuse from the older brother. I’m happy for her.. she’s done well.
Has she ever married?
It’s the mountain behind her home. I show pictures of it in the post.
Thank you for such thorough reviews of both books. I thought they were very unbiased. I have read both books. I saw many holes in both books. I believe Tara’s accounts about her brother and severely mentally ill father, and even the junkyard. I don’t believe all of her stories about her mother’s midwifery, homeschooling and natural medicine. Largely because she implies in her interviews and indicates in her book that she disapproves of natural medicine and homeschooling. In her interviews on television she is condescending to people who live in rural Idaho that might not find value in worldly things. She is not open at all to people who think differently than she does. That was very obvious in her interviews with Bill Gates. I have lived in Los Angeles and rural Idaho and homeschool and use natural medicine everyday. I am not against Western medicine when I need it. I have many many friends in California and Idaho who are like me. We aren’t all like her dad. I feel like LaRee defends those things that I also hold dear, and ignores the abuse which leads me to believe it is probably true. I was also bothered, as someone else mentioned, LaRee’s specific and elaborate spiritual stories. If they are true, I believe they shouldn’t be shared in her rebuttal book. I have struggled with both books because I have been a customer of Butterfly for many years and love all of the products I have bought from her. I, like LaRee, have turned to natural medicine because Western medicine failed me so many times. I feel like that part of LaRee’s book was very interesting and informative. So many ignore, including Tara, that the whole reason LaRee started experimenting with natural medicine is because doctors couldn’t help Val’s foot. LaRee is a gifted healer and herbalist. Her products are more affordable and have more information available than any other oil company out there. Their customer service is top notch as well. I have come to a similar decision that either you or someone else has said–that Val is very ill and LaRee is very loyal to him and looks at him through rose colored glasses. However, I do not think he controls her at all. She is so knowledgeable, and rarely even mentions him in her other books, or on her website. I wonder if he owns the business for legal reasons. She’s the brains and the heart of the company and anyone who buys their stuff knows it. Also, every single alternative medicine business or website received that letter from the government informing them they couldn’t talk about COVID on their website. I buy from other herbal companies, and they all received the same letter. I ache for them all–Tara and her family.
Thanks for your comment. I’m impressed that you took some time to write. I would like to add that Laree had access to excellent medical care. Again, I’m from the same general area. There’s a local hospital, which is basic. Then there’s another, much bigger facility less than an hour away. For technical health issues, Salt Lake City has amazing options (about 3 hours away). There’s access to one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals as well as a world renowned cancer center. Laree simply chose to trust natural and herbal remedies more than western medicine. I see no problem in that unless someone’s health is compromised by doing so. And that’s what she’s being tasked with, that and the fact that she encourages others to forego medical care and go natural instead. Anyone should be very careful about doing that.
Dottie Hill says
I just finished Educated and became so intrigued that I started looking up the family and landed here. I am a retired psychiatric nurse and found the book thoroughly believable from Tars’s experience and memories. The going back to revisit is only like that of the abused wife who continues to return to her oppressor. I am grateful you have read her mother’s book as I was leaning to find and read it, and have now no need…Thank you for taking so much time to sort out the dynamics in such an objective way.
You are most welcome! In writing this review, I wanted to be absolutely thorough. When finishing it, I realized I wouldn’t be helping LaRee to sell many books. But that wasn’t my goal. I tried to remain fair and objective, doing my best to educate readers from a straightforward, journalistic approach.
Rod H. says
I also finished Educated recently and was motivated to find out more about the family. I was surprised to find that LaRee had written a memoir that–judging only by the title–would seem to be a “counter memoir.” I appreciate your very thoughtful and balanced review. It must have taken a good bit of work and emotional energy to think through what to say and how best to say it. Based on your review, I might read this to glean her version of some of the events. I only wanted to make two additional observations. First, I found the small-print caveats to be useful, and, to me, they buttressed Tara’s personal credibility. Not that she was necessarily accurate, but that she was willing to admit that certain recollections might be inaccurate. As an attorney, I am not the least bit troubled by fine print. This academic tool made sense to me, particularly on learning later in her memoir that she is an historian. Second, the letter signed by Val that you have attached to this review provides an interesting confirmation of at least one aspect of his personality (as described in Educated). He referenced her book as “The New York Times Best Seller, ‘Educated.'” I would think he would be troubled by her account and might not wish to highlight the book’s success. But this interesting manifestation of pride in his daughter’s work is consistent with other dichotomies she describes in her book: his pride in her singing, which initially seemed to upset him, and his pride at her public success (Gates Scholarship) at BYU, attendance at which he initially discouraged. In any case, that description of her work jumped out at me immediately.
Thanks for your input. Val seems to be an interesting man. He likes the success. I also thought it was strange when he referenced Tara’s book in the cover letter of his wife’s memoir. I really thing he cowrote the memoir, and that’s probably an understatement. But it definitely falls short as a rebuttal.
Karen Wahnsiedler says
Your refer to Valaree, as being the daughter who helped with the mothers company. In Educated I only remember her mentioning a sister named Audrey or Aubrey? And that the rest of her siblings were brothers.
Hi, Karen! Valaree is the daughter’s real name. It’s a combination of Val, the dad, and LaRee. In Tara’s book, she doesn’t use real names. LaRee does.
Carol Braunschweig says
I haven’t yet finished Educated but yet felt compelled to seek information regarding the family and, like others, am grateful to have landed here. I was prompted by the same question which prompted your article (and the same question that led others to your article) – Is it all True? Understand that if it were 1/10 true I would have remained deeply impressed by the resilience of Tara and impressed with the effort and courage it took for a victim to write her memoir. I was actually hoping to discover that maybe less of it was true – sadly I doubt it.
I am impressed with the resilience of her family members for that matter – people have different ways of coping with extreme situations like this – including acquiescence – but obviously not every mechanism is as healthy as another, some are simply survivalist, some destructive. Everyone is a victim here.
I will finish the book with all the information you have provided in mind but I wanted to thank you for taking the time to do exactly what I was hoping to do for myself with much less access to information.
One additional comment I wanted to make is that, thus far, I don’t find this so much a condemnation of the religion practiced by the Church of the Latter Day Saints – I am surprised if the general readership is taking it that way.. But I haven’t finished it yet so I may discover otherwise.
Thanks for commenting. Its not that the book is a condemnation of the religion, but it makes us all look like a bunch of kooks. That’s not fair, and it’s not a correct representation of what we believe in.
Luke H says
I am not a member of the LDS and did not see the book as presenting all of you folks as a “bunch of kooks”. I saw this as a story about a family. It would make as much sense to think it makes all Idahoans look like a “bunch of kooks”. Tara presented the town folks and the people at BYU as more normal.
That family though, . . . Whew!
My daughter gave me this book to read and I found it compelling and believable. My wife grew up in a house with a manic depressive father and I can see the impact it had on her and her siblings.. I see that dynamic in the Westovers.
One thing I wonder about is the obvious intelligence of each family member. Dad provided for his family in spite of his mental illness, Mom and Valaree built a multimillion dollar business out of their home, Shawn/Travis was shaping up to build the dads business into an even greater success then dad had made it, and three kids earned doctorates.
That family. . . . Wow!
The family is definitely intelligent! They’re also hard workers. The combination can be a great force. I honestly wish them well going forward and hope they might resolve some of their issues. I don’t know them personally.
My beef has always been about how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints AND some Idahoans are portrayed in both books. I’m glad you didn’t see it that way, but MANY people have (and have commented here). Unfortunately, LaRee/Val’s memoir certainly didn’t lend credibility to the situation.
Lori Ringhand says
I agree….I haven’t seen/felt a misrepresentation of The Church of Latter Day Saints either in Educated.
I was looking for more info after reading “Educated” and was shocked to discover that LaRee wrote a book called “Educating”. I understand that you tried your best to be objective but I am not sure if you are aware of LaRee’s own daughter-in-law’s review of her book on goodreads.com? Tyler’s wife, Stefanie, confirms that LaRee’s account was dishonest and she deliberately tried to discredit Tara’s story. If this can come directly from a Westover family member (who witnessed Travis’ horrific behaviour) , I highly doubt anyone can vouch for LaRee’s version. No sane parent can ever allow their children to be hurt so many times or turn away from such abuse. Clearly Tara’s parents are mentally ill as well as narcissistic and arrogant. And obviously the remaining four children can’t say too much about their parents since they are financially reliable on them to care for their families.
I wasn’t aware of Stefanie’s account. The family has much discontent to deal with. I was asked to review LaRee’s book, so that is the scope of my review. Thanks for commenting.
Julia Anne Flynn says
The accounts will always vary. Siblings have very different views on situations. It’s normal because there isn’t one truth. There are experiences based on your age, the moment you appeared on during an event, etc. The stories would rarely line up completely. What is clear is the abuse inflicted on the family due to the father’s personality and mental illness. He has harmed many people both intentionally and accidentally. The mother followed his lead. So sad. I’m so happy Tara has so many people in her life who stood by her and pointed to another way for her…starting with her brother. I’m so glad she questions things and has a fighting spirit. It’s so unfortunate that she was given a safe space to also be loved and calm. She has made great use of her high intelligence.
Thank you for your review, which I found thoughtful and compassionate to both accounts.
I and my housemate/best friend are reading “Educated” aloud, one chapter per night, right now. We are about halfway through the book. We’re just taking it in, without judgement, and with a tiny grain of salt because we both know (we are in our 60’s) that memories are … shaded? … colorized? … at best. And we’re OK with that.
My comment is not about anything anyone else wrote about – I carefully read all the other comments first before writing this – but about a term that is used as though it is interchangeable, and it’s kinda not.
The term is “homeopathic.”
I am a practicing shaman, and in my practice I use both herbal remedies and homeopathic remedies. They are quite different.
Herbal tinctures, compounds, poultices, and salves are used full-strength. They are concocted using direct contact with the herbs, in solutions of water, alcohol, or sometimes honey, often containing bits and pieces of the actual herbs, even after filtration. Homeopathic remedies, however, are thinned again and again, until in most cases the pills or solutions contain little or no physical traces of the original herb, mineral, or compound.
It seems that Tara’s mother excelled in the creation of herbal tinctures, salves, and compounds, based on what she wrote in Educated, as well as a survey of the herbalism of that region of Idaho. LaRee may have made homeopathic compounds as well – we don’t see a clear distinction – but my point is that the terms are not interchangeable, any more than are “quilts” and “blankets,” or corn liquor and corn syrup.
Yes, I know… this might seem pedantic… but to we who use these concoctions in our work, the terms matter. Scientifically, they just are not interchangeable.
That said, my hat is off to you for doing a great job, and I also thank you for the photos. They will enhance our nightly reading (I am the reader, as a former radio announcer and current audio-book narrator, and she is the one that sits all cuddled up in blankets, coloring on her iPad while I read – yes, it’s adorable).
Thanks for your comment. I do use aromatherapy on occasion and love my aloe vera. I just don’t advocate extreme use of either when medical emergencies warrant hospital care.
As an adult with an abusive childhood I can understand the inability to exactly remember a traumatic moment in the past yet others are crystal clear. You are living with such a heightened sense of terror, constantly on guard. It’s exhausting and your perspective is usually tunnel vision. Studies have proven this level of trauma affects your memory. I would’ve have been less likely to believe Tara’s account if she was 100% about every detail and find her more believable due to her attempts at clarification.
Thanks for your comment. This article doesn’t dis Tara.
Dale D. says
I was happy to have found your blog, as I am about halfway through Educated, and as it is SO painful and disturbing to read and digest, I appreciate that you have created this open forum for discussion.
It is crystal clear to me that Val is the driving force behind the book Educating, and that he is controlling and manipulating LaRee, as Tara pointed out he did countless times in Educated. I truly wonder if she wrote any of it.
LaRee is also a victim of abuse. I could condemn her for not protecting her children better, but she is not the first, nor will be the last mother to have been in this situation and not stood up to the abuser(s). Women stay with abusers for a variety of reasons, some of them being societal and religious constraints, others may be financial and fear based, and of course, emotional illness and dependency as well.
In terms of whether or not Tara’s account is “true,” as others have pointed out, it’s her truth. Every last little detail is not important, the overall conditions under which she was brought up is the point here, not minor details about places and the exact timeline of events. In fact, as others have pointed out, she has gone above and beyond in an attempt to make it as accurate as possible. Probably because she knew her father would retaliate in someway, which he has in the publishing of this book. The writing and publishing of Educating was CLEARLY not her mother’s idea, nor her sole creation. He uses all of his family as his personal slaves, for his own purposes, and it’s clear that is what this book is. I have NO interest in reading it. Thank you for doing that for me.
Thanks for your comment! You bring up a very valid point. Tara’s writing is Tara’s truth. Like you, I suspect Val significantly helped LaRee write “her” memoir. For their family’s benefit, I wish both parents would seek professional counseling. But they’re pretty set in their ways. As such, the family would do well to remove Val from positions of control as much as possible.
Thank you for this well explained review. The fact that this book exists, and the point that she won’t see her own daughter without her husband, absolutely points to a validity in what Tara shared. I wouldn’t want to buy “Educating” and therefore give support, so I appreciate the clarity you have provided. Of course, the people close to the situation would prefer to believe Tara were lying, as it is a lesser crime than the truth of abuse and neglect.
Also, I am a Christian, although not LDS. I understand that this is not the norm of LDS and Christian. I would hope that well-educated people of different backgrounds would understand that this extreme is not acceptable to any God-fearing person. I myself find it an especially heinous crime when someone uses God’s name to commit atrocities.
Thank you. I assume my review doesn’t sell many copies of Educating. But I do want to clarify a religion I love and am very much part of. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a beautiful Christian religion. The problems the Westovers have as a family do not represent the church.
Jo Hartnett says
The book Educated is riveting. I was stunned at all the young Tara endured but it’s even more frightening that she continues to endure. She is the battered child, still searching for the love and acceptance from two very dysfunctional parents. To say they were and are mentally ill doesn’t do justice. They hurt all of their children and all seem to retain their zombie like existence. Mormonism is not a cult. It’s a beautiful religion. But the Westover’s, themselves, are a cult. They fit the description in absolute. Other than to feel sorry for their mental conditions, I find little sympathy for them or their cause. They have destroyed lives. They are accountable for what they have done.
I’m not comfortable calling the Westovers a cult. I don’t think that’s right. But I do think the family certainly has dysfunctional challenges, which Tara bring to light in her book. Thanks for your comment.
Hi I’m the Charlie mentioned in Educated. Just wanted to say thanks for this thoughtful article and gracious comments to everyone’s questions. If it helps, I just wanted to comment that anything I witnessed personally was greatly downplayed by Tara in the book. Much of what I witnessed personally and can attest to was left out so as to not do undo harm to anyone involved. I spent a lot of time with fact checkers who pulled apart every aspect of my experiences to ensure accuracy. I am continuously amazed at the love, compassion, and forgiveness Tara extends to her family, and I sincerely believe that she only wants to put good into the world, not do any harm.
I don’t know if this is relevant. But, because of my own struggles in life and mental illness I have often ignored calls and messages from Tara and other family members over the years. In spite of this and her own rising stardom she still checks in on and encourages me regularly. She’s a lovely person and a dear friend, who I have heard so often speak with love and compassion of her family.
Good luck to everyone, keep learning 🙂
Charlie, Thank you so much for commenting! It’s good to hear from you. I’m so glad Tara still reaches out to you. I would love to meet her someday. I wish you all the best on your life’s journey.
Shalvia Shahya Sahitya says
I just finished this book today and as the other persons do, searching for Tara’s family and found your article about LaRee’s book. Thank you for writing your honest opinion because we can see the other family’s side of Tara’s story. At first, I shocked of how could a family could be that toxic. As I read your thoughts, I do believe that at least the big picture of Tara’s writing is true. Educated is a great book. I hope Tara can found her happiness she deserve to have.
Thank you again for your thoughtful opinion of these two books. Have a great day.
Thanks for your comment. Glad you found my article. I don’t know how the family is doing but hope they’ve all been able to move forward positively in their lives.
Lou Bee says
Also having just read Educated and ended up here by curiosity, I am left totally overwhelmed by the book and the life story that it tells.
Re the parents writing their own version of events, I guess it is only to be expected from such self-righteous people who showed utter disregard for all of their children throughout their years growing up. I am astounded that readers are not more shocked at the circumstances the children and even the mother were exposed to.
It has taken incredible courage from Tara to face her abusers, question her reality and confront the lies and delusions her father and other family members unashamedly brandish as “God’s ways” although, in my view, nothing could be further from God.
I wonder if the children had been forced to go to school whether the abuse would have been noticed sooner, the deprivation identified through comparison, the general unhygienic and harsh conditions of their life as exploited child workers in a “family business” reported.
As society, the rules we agree and adhere to are only as good as our ability to watch out for the victims in that same society and it occurs to me that there are community members who could have or should have spoken up for all of the children long before the last child was pushed outside of her own family for recognising the dangers of the twisted relationships around her.
It makes me suspicious of people who seek total isolation from the rest of the world, whether it’s praying to God, living on a mountain or off the land or home schooling your children – these actions are still carried out within a greater community or society which plays a role in shielding individuals through constantly reassessing what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviour. In the case of Tara, it is the educational establishment that stood up for her, not her Church community.
Thank you for reading the parents futile attempt at self redemption so that others won’t.
In my view they deserve a proper investigation by all agents of law and order, not just the kindness of a book review on your website.
I believe Tara’s church community tried to stand up for her and other siblings, as did her grandparents. If you didn’t read LaRee’s book, then you don’t realize they were in frequent discord with neighbors, who are predominantly of the same religion. The Westovers simply would not listen. To me it was interesting that LaRee/Val would admit that in her memoir.
I agree with you that it is concerning when families try to isolate their children. Their reasoning is often that they are trying to protect their children from the corruption of the world, but the reality is that the isolation gives the dominant figure in the home/community near unchecked power. I grew up in a hippie town on the West Coast, and I have seen this happen in communes and lefty families as well as religious ones. I used to be a teacher, and it left me with a pretty deep skepticism toward home schooling for this very reason.
Thank you for your comment. I would like to point out, as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that there is NEVER a time when we are counseled to isolate our children from others, especially when harmful practices are occurring in the home. On behalf of myself and every other church member who is appalled by the story of Educated, I wish to make this clear.
Cynthia G. says
I read Tara’s book, Educated, not long after it was published, haunted by a strange mixture of sadness at the stunning revelations of mental illness and abuse, while rejoicing in her ability to prevail and carve out a new life for herself. A couple of times in the intervening years, I have checked in (via Google searches) to find out more about her and the family and see what has transpired in the wake of such exposure. Today I first learned of her mother’s book, Educating, and attempted to get a copy through my local library. After a bit of research and landing at this website, I know why the library did not waste its resources purchasing it, and now neither will I. Virtually all who have actually read her mother’s book agree that, while it may be considered the other side of the story, it was likely written in retribution by her father or at his direction and is little more than a thinly-disguised, self-serving, self-aggrandizing attempt at hiding the truth and making themselves look better. Even though they may make a few dollars off this publication of this book, they would have been better served by not revealing (any further than Tara already did) the depths of how awful and misguided they are.
I’m sure me review has not sold any copies for them. But that wasn’t the intent. I was asked to just say what I felt was fair. So that’s what I did. I believe the family is hurting. I do not wish to throw any more dirt at them. My review is simply a thorough research of both books, maintaining an objective viewpoint from what I discovered. Thanks for your comment.
I just read this book and it’s so intense. Your non biased review really made me happy. You wrote an amazing article and it just confirms what I believed when I first read “educated”…. Tara, you have led an astonishing life. Scary and unbelievable.. I hear you and I would be the same. It would be so hard. And I hate to be mean, but her mothers attempt to disprove you, is grossly silly… and offensive. But that’s what conditioning does to the brain.
Thanks for your comment. To clarify, the mother has not attempted to disprove me. I’m not sure where that came from.
Greta deJong says
I found “Educated” yesterday at a SLC D.I. (Deseret Industries Thrift Store) and read it straight through — the first printed book I’ve read in months. I was immediately astonished by the quality of Tara Westover’s thinking and the richness of her prose. A desire to learn “what’s happened since” led me to your site. Reading about her mother’s (make that her father’s) self-published, unverified version of history confirms for me a core point I took away from Tara’s book: that her parents were willing to throw their children under the bus to preserve Val’s self-created mythos. Val sure does sound bipolar. And both books might make a case for LaRee suffering from Stockholm syndrome. All seven kids inherited a whole lot of crazy from growing up in that household.
However, there’s no denying Val is uncommonly intelligent. And so are the kids. Along with passion and determination, their wits helped at least for three of the seven escape their paranoid existence. Additional aspects of their upbringing — nature, exercise, fresh air, real-life problem-solving — were positive and healthy. But no way can Val and LaRee claim bragging rights, considering the serious harm caused by their heartlessness.
I am 100% in Tara’s camp, honoring the way she approached her story, comparing notes with her siblings, finding a highly reputable publisher that did due diligence in fact-checking, even if some disputes remain. I’m glad that Charlie (“Charles” in the book) found your site, too, and added his comments. We see that Tara Westover has made the most of her intelligence, producing a work of great heart.
P.S. I think American society’s stereotyped Mormon/Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints is nowadays closer to Mitt Romney than Tara’s zealot dad. Thank goodness for Mitt. And thanks for an enjoyable Sunday afternoon, as I read your review and the comments, and took time to consider and clarify my own thoughts.
Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I have deleted so many comments here from uninformed people who think the stereotyped “Mormon” church is full of zealots.
Helena Laasonen says
Thanks so much Kerry for doing such a meticulous and objective comparison and a well written, fair analysis.
Tara´s magnificently written, touching and upsetting book left me somewhat in disbelief, uncomfortable, and I felt a need for additional “objective” details concerning her family dynamics. You helped in giving documentation and missing pieces of the puzzle from the other side.
Tara seems to me an extraordinary person. I wish and I believe she will thrive!
Thank you! I hope Tara is doing well too. I also hope the Westover family can sort things out.
Great review! As a registered nurse I think one thing that needs to be clear is the word “midwife” can mean a lot of different things. A Certified Nursing Midwife is someone highly trained (following a bachelors of nursing they go on to receive a masters or doctorate in midwifery- we’re talking 6-8 years of training) They are safe and are associated with great outcomes. I work at a well known hospital and we have an excellent midwifery clinic. A giant pet peeve of mine is there are many whom, like in the memoirs, call themselves midwives but don’t have such training. It’s like calling yourself a nurse without going to nursing school. They’re tainting the name of a highly skilled profession as many don’t realize not all “midwives” are created equal.
Thank you for your excellent points. I think it’s important to clarify the timeline of when Laree was a midwife. I believe it would have been the late 70s and 80s. I don’t know what educational options, if any, were available to her in southeastern Idaho. Laree’s memoir devotes much attention to midwifery, but she didn’t really understand the target audience for Educated. I don’t believe most of those readers are very interested in knowing the details of midwifery, to be quite honest. So Laree missed the mark in devoting so much attention to it in her rebuttal memoir.It suits her needs but not for the majority of interest.
Thank you for your comment. A registered nurse reviewed the books with me and helped me with a few key points in my article. I consulted her for medical expertise because I do not have that background. As your comment would indicate, even nurses and medical experts differ in opinions on certain topics.
Shalini Sehgal says
I have just finished reading the book Educated & since then I have been watching all the videos., her interviews on different platforms , her speeches. Like others I was so curious to know her family’s reaction to her book release. and happened to find your article here where you have given fair analytical view on both the books.
I find Tara’s character was very honest , powerful , courageous knowing the fact that her father , brother or any other family member are quite capable to harm her both emotionally & physically after her book had published. It is not easy for anyone to step forward and talk about her sufferings so openly. especially Tara who loves her family & tried many times to be accepted by them. Moreover in her book and for that matter in all the interviews I have watched , she has always said that her family loves her but their beliefs are way too different & she has given her perspective without disgracing anyone.
Spanking child on wrong doings used to be very common practice in Asian countries in earlier times. That’s how people thought of teaching kids but no parents would put their kids in danger knowing the consequences. Tara verified her memories from family / friends & book was fact verified so cannot be that wrong. I am glad that her friend Charles has also commented above & supported Tara’s memoir.
Time and again, family has disowned her. They could have trusted her, talked to her , empathized her & that’s what Tara has been seeking her family’s acceptance with love. . Mother’s role shouldn’t be biased & there was no reason to not to stand by her, against abuse or for that matter for humanity. It is as much as a responsibility to stand up for the victim as it is to support your husband.
I hope the family reconcile as its one life & all good and bad needs to be sorted here in this life. I have become a big fan of Tara, her composed talks in public , her maturity is very high level for her age. I heard her singing & her voice is very melodious & therapeutic.
Thank you for being so patient in replying to everyone in best way possible without taking any sides. You have actually done a good research & is not an easy task to get influenced.
Educated is a brilliant book & strongly recommend for everyone to read. I am sure Educating must be good too but it is written in self defence.
Wish you all the best!
Thank you for taking the time to comment. I know it’s hard to read books liked Educated, but the topic is important. Healthy ways to raise children would be in question otherwise. Sometimes an effective way to learn is by reading about what’s NOT effective. In fairness, I’m sure her parents, especially the mom, did some effective things as parents. The book doesn’t highlight those. But it’s apparent to me that extended family and the community have spoken out against some of the family’s decisions and practices, not just Tara. It’s unfortunate that the parents don’t seem to listen and that Laree doesn’t recognize the dysfunction in her husband.
On a whim I downloaded Educated by Tara Westover and I just couldn’t put it down. The curious me wanted to learn more about her mother’s business but I was a little shocked to see Educating by LaRee Westover. I am so glad I stumbled across your post. Thank you for writing such a detailed and well-researched post. I wholeheartedly agree with you that every story has two sides.
Hi! I just wanted to mention that writing in a smaller font and leaving it the end after denoting the concerning sentence with an asterisk is typical for historical writing. This kind of writing would probably be required of Dr. Westover during her studies and her PhD thesis, but it does not show up as often in other forms of non historical, less rigorous writing. I think is is why she chose to communicate the possible he said she said situations, rather than interrupting the flow of the book. If someone has already mentioned that, feel free to just ignore this. But just in case you didn’t know, now you do!
Thanks. I think for the audience she has, it was a mistake to use the historical format you mention. It definitely looks he-said/she-said and that’s the family’s big issue overall.
Hi, I have just finished reading Educated. And I have no desire whatsoever to read the book that the “mother” published as a way to exonerate herself. Or was it the “father” who insisted that the “mother” write this book? There is no excuse for a mother to deny a daughter a visit, with or without the father present.
I am rooting for Tara. What a brave, strong, amazing and thoroughly good person she is to be able to survive these “parents” and still have love for them.
My review, though truthful and as objective as I can be, has not helped LaRee to sell her book. That was never my intent, even though I share an affiliate link in the article which would earn me a commission. To date (and this article was originally posted at least two years ago), I have not received a penny in commissions. So either there are no book sales resulting from it or Val is mad at me and won’t send me a commission. 🙂 I’m fine either way.
My experience when reading Educated was that the parts you referred to as “noted with asterisks and tiny print” enhanced the believability of the overall story. In the version I read the print, while a little smaller than the body of the book., was plenty big enough to read and on the same page, not a foot note at the end. My eye went right to it. Knowing that others had read the memoir before publication and remembered parts of an incident differently indicated to me that she was telling her story as she remembered it, not settling scores with relatives she didn’t like.
Glad you found the footnotes helpful.
Danny Dann says
For years the family worked long hours in close proximity to all kinds of metals in their scrap metal business. Heavy metal toxicity can cause serious psychiatric conditions. Heavy metals can be detoxed with chelation therapy.
Yes, it is possible the family is hurting, but it is not to late for them to seek counseling, come clean and make amends to Tara.
Perhaps. My guess is Val’s mental health issues existed long before he was exposed repeatedly to metal. If you read LaRee’s memoir, which I think was written largely by Val, you’ll see they have no intentions of seeking counseling. Tara also has publicly stated that she doesn’t plan to reestablish harmful relationships. I don’t know the family and don’t wish to meddle, but I do wish them well, however they choose to live their lives.
“If you read LaRee’s memoir, which I think was written largely by Val,” Really? You think so? From his forward, I’d think LaRee’s memoir is her words, mostly… and of course, whatever she writes, her husband’s way of life looms large in IT…
If you haven’t read the memoir, why comment? Read her memoir, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Lee K Brasted says
I drafted this note about 3 years ago. I’m now 83. I never found a way to transmit it to Dr Westover. Maybe she will see this comment which includes my undelivered note.
Dr. Tara Westover,
I recently completed reading your Memoir. You have led one of the most amazing lives of anyone I know, or have read or heard about. The fact that you never set foot in a school room until you were 17, have accomplished so much, traveled, learned and experienced more than most people do in a long lifetime, and are still so young, boggles my own 80 year old mind.
I look forward to reading more of your work. How about a concise History of the World through the eyes of great writers, say Homer through Westover?
Whatever it is, please don’t wait too long!
How kind of you to write her here. I hope she sees it. Take care.
Kaden Vanciel says
I read Educated for an English class during the Summer of 2019, though I did not read LaRee’s book. And most of the reviews on Goodreads talk about LaRee gaslighting the situation and whatnot. And if I may be indiscreet, one of the reviews praising the book is from “Priscilla Westover”, who I think is Tara’s estranged sister “Audrey”. Also, I’d like to point out that looking at both sides of the story and reading both memoirs to the end, authors would still, despite finding an amount of LaRee’s writing truthful, would still feel that there is still gaslighting and propaganda. Also, I don’t know if Tara herself read LaRee’s memoir. If she did, who knows what she might be going through? Maybe we’ll see her write a book regarding updates. What might be true with this new memoir? Also, despite still possessing a satellite dish, that doesn’t mean it would give them internet access, especially if Val was really afraid of the federal government like Tara wrote he was from her recalled experience.
Maybe I’ll look for people from that English class to speak with about all this. And I wonder if we’ll see a trial go down. What might result from it?
(Just so you know, I’m not Mormon. I never was.)
My personal opinion? I think Tara will write other books but not return to her original topic. I don’t think Tara or her family ever planned to be in the spotlight this much. I could be wrong. But it’s a high price to pay. I think it’s terribly sad they didn’t just resolve things as a family or quietly go their separate ways. I wonder if Tara has regrets about writing it in the first place.
I think Tara’s sincerity comes through (even without knowing the book was fact checked). Anyone doubting Tara or wondering why she would write this book must not understand dysfunctional relationships and codependency and the false roles they force you to play. In the name of religion or not, I guarantee Jesus does not intend for us to be codependent or to force the life or will out of others. Can you imagine how alone Tara must feel? REEEEAALLLY imagine being Tara. Can you even make up stories like the junk yard stories? No, you cannot. These things happened. Tara was SEVERLY abused emotionally and physically and spiritually. Her parents are codependent, and the really sad thing is her mom is educated and knew better. Also, what’s sad is her mom writes a book in response. The whole family lives in a made up reality, and Tara chose to come to reality, and it was SO BRAVE of her. Bravo Tara.