Tara Westover grew up at the base of Buck’s Peak, raised by Latter-day Saint parents in rural southern Idaho. Her father operated a junkyard, and her mother was a self-taught herbalist and midwife. Fueled by fears that powerful, secret forces had infiltrated the federal government and other institutions, Westover’s parents distrusted public education and the medical establishment. Her father in particular subscribed to a number of radical beliefs that became more entrenched over time, and he dreamed of a day when his family could live completely “off the grid.” As the youngest of the family’s seven children, Westover’s upbringing was the most isolated of all her siblings. She never attended school or saw a doctor throughout her childhood. She was nine years old when her mother finally agreed to apply for her birth certificate, but even then, none of Westover’s family members could recall the exact day in September that she was born.
Westover’s memoir, Educated, details her life on Buck’s Peak, as well as her decision to leave that life behind. Desiring an education beyond the haphazard homeschooling she received as a child and eager to escape the increasingly abusive behavior of her older brother “Shawn” (a pseudonym), Westover decides to apply to Brigham Young University. Encouraged by another brother, Tyler, who had attended BYU himself, Westover purchases an ACT study guide, and in order to pass the test, she resolves to teach herself algebra. On her second attempt at the ACT, Westover earns a score high enough to be admitted to BYU. She enters the university as a seventeen-year-old freshman in 2004, and the trajectory of her life is completely changed.