Deep in the hills of Idaho, among the potato farms and tiny villages, poverty reigns over large families like the Westovers, who cling to their Mormon faith for the little bit of truth that they can believe in. Dad preaches to his children his beliefs that the government is part of a socialist plot to undermine the Lord’s will and public education is just a manifest of this. So while the older children might have benefitted from having gone to school, the younger ones, Tara being the youngest of those, did not. So the kitchen where Tara mixes herbs with her mother and the junkyard where Tara sorts metals with her father and brothers become Tara’s classrooms. And the random, outdated history or mathematics textbooks that left around the house became her only source of book learning, such as it was. Sadly, her emotional learning was blunted by the abuse at the behest of her brother Shawn, and her ability to survive in her home was made possible only by quelling any feeling or reaction to what was going on around her. When she finally did allow herself to feel, she realized there was just too much rage at her whole family to do anything with it. This was the face of mental illness and this was the face of her family.
This is the true account of the life of Tara Westover – and it’s truly a miracle that all of the children actually survived, especially Tara. The severity of the neglect and abuse at the hand of her father (and her mother) is staggering. It is really not entirely their fault, as they clearly are mentally ill – at least her father is severely so. The most egregiously violent and abusive one, however, is her brother Shawn, who is viciously violent and his parents repeatedly turn a blind eye to his cruelty.
I find that the one I am most angry with by the end of the book, interestingly, is Tara’s mother. She has so many opportunities to come through for Tara. There are moments when it appears she just might finally side with Tara. That she might stand up against Tara’s father, or against Shawn, and say that Tara may be right in accusing Shawn of acting violently toward Tara, or of Dad having mistreated Tara when she was younger, not having given her opportunities or believed her when she was telling the truth (that she was NOT a whore, as she was so often accused of being). Even later, when her mother had more financial success and independence and might have had a chance to break free and it might have appeared she’d stand up for herself. But no, she did not. Such. a disappointment for Tara. No wonder there was such heartbreak and fury.
The fact that Tara has achieved the success that she has is miraculous and I applaud her intellect and courage. I only pray for her that she is able to find the support that will allow her to find kindness toward herself that will allow her to heal from all the hurt.
I thank her for sharing her story with all of us. It has been so powerful. Mental illness rears its ugly head in so many ways. Sadly, the worst is toward children.