I read the first 50-ish pages of Educated in a book store last summer, and while it was a page-turner, I wasn’t much interested in continuing because it reminded me too much of The Glass Castle: page after page of inept parents exposing their kids to dangerous activities. In the case of Educated, it’s Tara working in her father’s scrapping business, where he throws metal bars and tubes past her–and sometimes into her—before he then tells her to climb into the dumping bucket that drops into the crusher. She’s not even 10.
Because her father–a Mormon fundamentalist who prepares each day for the end of the world—does not believe in government institutions or healthcare, the kids don’t go to school, don’t have birth certificates, and don’t go to a doctor, even when her brother’s head splits open or when her other brother’s leg is on fire or when their car flips upside down, throwing everyone out the windshield. This is their life in Buck’s Peak, Idaho.
Much of that is hard to stomach, but what’s even harder is her older brother Shawn’s constant mental and physical abuse—something that haunts Tara through her early 30s, until the publication of the book. Abuse that her parents witness and deny. Again and again. Everything is controlled by God, so Shawn couldn’t possibly be responsible. It reminds me of fundamentalist Muslim honor killings: if a girl fails to obey her father’s wishes, refusing to marry an older man she detests, it’s okay to kill her because Allah would want the family’s reputation in tact. Same here. Tara can be beaten and abused, but the family’s secrets and reputation are more important than her safety—after all, God will protect.
It’s her struggle through the emotional and psychological journey of breaking free that I found most compelling. When she makes the decision to go to college, her world starts to open, but it is many years (at BYU, Cambridge, and Harvard) before she chooses to fully live in this new world. Like a magnet, she keeps getting pulled back into the old one, keeps trying to normalize that world. But her family is not normal, and ultimately she has to make a clean break before she can truly live, before she has become fully educated.