The past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, & thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past. — VIRGINIA WOOLF
An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castleabout a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University
Meet Tara – a girl who set foot in a school when she was 17 years old. Who, for years, did not have a birth certificate because her parents did not want to be involved in any matters with the state. Who celebrated her birthdays in different days each year depending on mood.
Grandma still believed it was the twenty-ninth, and the state of Idaho issued a Delayed Certificate of Birth. I remember the day it came in the mail. It felt oddly dispossessing, being handed this first legal proof of my personhood: until that moment, it had never occurred to me that proof was required.
Tara went with her mother to her midwife tasks and knew about life more than other kids do through exploration and born inquisitiveness.
When Dad was twenty-seven, Luke was born, at home, delivered by a midwife. Dad decided not to file for a birth certificate, a decision he repeated with Audrey, Richard and me. A few years later, around the time he turned thirty, Dad pulled my brothers out of school. I don’t remember it, because it was before I was born, but I wonder if perhaps that was a turning point. In the four years that followed, Dad got rid of the telephone and chose not to renew his license to drive. He stopped registering and insuring the family car. Then he began to hoard food.
Sounds like something from a movie! I was just thinking that this would not have been possible in another country other than the US. It’s illegal in England not to send your children to school until they turn 16. From then onwards it’s optional.
Westover’s experience felt pretty tame. Her family were survivalists who spent months canning peaches and hunting for scrap, but is this really that odd? My mother used to take us to collect blackberries and wild strawberries and then we’d spend time making jam and canning. How avant-garde.
They are also just really bad at going off the grid. I heard all these promises of “wilderness” and “mountain survivalists” but they have a phone and TV. Come on, guys! If you’re going to do it, do it properly. I would say this family is more “eccentric” than “survivalist”. Where the book does succeed is as a portrait of physical and emotional abuse. I think this was the most important part of the book and it’s been glossed over in favour of people’s delight at learning about weirdos running around wild in the mountains…
Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far, if there was still a way home.
I was wondering where she got the money to attend Harvard and Cambridge – they are both super elitist and their tuition is sky-high.
I was only a month into the semester, but even so I knew a scholarship was comically out of reach. American history was getting easier, but only in that I was no longer failing the quizzes outright. I was doing well in music theory, but I struggled in English. My teacher said I had a knack for writing but that my language was oddly formal and stilted. I didn’t tell her that I’d learned to read and write by reading only the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and speeches by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.
Plus, once she got to college, she didn’t seem to mind that her roommates were upset with the smell in their home. Dirty dishes, not bathing, not having clean clothes. I get if this is the norm, in the home she grew up in but when faced with other’s displeasure, I would think a smart girl like her would have taken the hint that being clean and living in a clean environment is the norm, not how she was raised. Plus, at home a young man even pointed out to her that her home smelled as did she.
What worked for me in this book was Tara’s drive for a better life. How with very little support from her family, she went out on her own and obtained an education. I appreciated her drive and determination. Her book is well written and I realize this is her account of how she remembers things from her perspective.
Some of it is shocking – like when she develops strep and mono and is given penicillin and antibiotics and her mother hearing his sends tinctures through the post.
These herbs will flush the antibiotics from your system. Please use them for as long as you insist on taking the drugs. Love you.
I leaned back into my pillow and fell asleep almost instantly, but before I did I laughed out loud. She hadn’t sent any remedies for the strep or the mono. Only for the penicillin.
She shares everything. Having a fight with her brother, being humiliated for where she went, sounds a lot like hick county. Any parents would be proud to hear their daughter is doing well. Plus a memoir is defined as an autobiography or a written account of one’s memory of certain events. Maybe this is how she remembers everything, maybe it really all happened this way. I really don’t know. But it all just did not add up for me.