Since writing my own memoir, Tarnished Haloes, Open Hearts in 2008 I’m often drawn to the memoirs of others. From the moment I began to read Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, I couldn’t put it down. I kept thinking: “The next chapter will be the one here she defies her father’s screwed-up ultimatums.” Instead she repeatedly returned to her dysfunctional family knowing she’d be physically abused by one of her brothers while her parents refused to call his hand.
I’m working on a memoir for Phyllis Edwards Miller, who despite spending her childhood and youth strapped in a family overwhelmed with economic and social barriers, casts her dream of becoming a medical doctor toward her education. From her entry in the first grade onward, Phyllis latches on to education to fulfill her dream of becoming an M.D.
Thus, I have found it intriguing to consider the similarities, as well as the radical differences, on education shared by Phyllis and Tara.
First, let me state my premise. Both women are mentally gifted individuals endowed with strong self-determination goals who find their lives expanded through education. From that point on their differences abound.
Mr. Westover, Tara’s father, is a Mormon survivalist whose interpretation of Scripture leads him to isolate his family from many things—among them is public education. Tara is 17 before she steps foot in a classroom!
Mr. Edwards, Phyllis’ father, whose mother taught school, strongly backed the pursuit of education for his children. Phyllis was like a sponge, absorbing the offerings of academia.
Hospitals and doctors are on Tara’s father’s “bad list”. Consequently when Tara and other members of her family become sick the only cure they’re offered comes from Tara’s mother, an unlicensed, self-proclaimed midwife.
While the Edwards family welcome doctors and medicine they cringe over the cost of such services.
Tara grew up in rural Idaho where her family, consisting of a mother, daddy and six children, was self-quarantined by her father’s psychotic decrees.
Phyllis’ home turf was an isolated rural community in East Tennessee, consisting of a mother, father, one brother, Aunt Laurie, and a host of relatives.
Both Phyllis and Tara were victims of poverty and social mores. Tara’s situation was far more debilitating than that which Phyllis experienced. Tara’s father spoke as God’s prophet. Phyllis’ mother was the religious anchor in their family with her father giving it lip service only.
The home Phyllis grows up in a family welded together by the love and laughter of her mother and a father who had trouble expressing his feelings. The home Tara grows up in, while displaying several genuine heart moments, is riddled with mental health issues.
For more than 50 weeks Educated has remained on the New York Times bestseller list. Educated left me with an annoying conclusion: How can one girl at 17 educate herself enough to pass the entrance exam to Brigham Young University, get a degree from Cambridge, England, then Yale and back again to Cambridge? While she is piling up a stack of degrees she still returns home, hoping against hope she may change her family!
Please read Educated and share your thoughts with me. I’d love to read your reactions to this powerful memoir.