In 1986, Tara Westover was born into a Mormon survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho. She prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills” bag. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged metal in her father’s junkyard.

Her father distrusted the medical establishment, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when her older brother became violent.

Despite being sporadically homeschooled, Tara taught herself enough mathematics, grammar, and science to take the ACT and gained admittance to Brigham Young University. There, she studied psychology, politics, philosophy, and history, learning for the first time about pivotal world events like the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement. She was subsequently awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship and earned an MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 2009. In 2010 Westover was a visiting fellow at Harvard University and later returned to Cambridge where, in 2014, she was awarded a PhD.

Her quest for knowledge came at a high price… her family. Not only is the author’s life story extraordinary, she wrote it with intelligence and moxie. When I posted something about it on a Facebook page for avid readers, I was shocked by the responses. Many people simply don’t believe her. They don’t believe her account of growing up in an unconventional family, nor her being able to get into college with no formal education.

See, here’s the thing… I write memoirs for a living, and some people’s lives ARE unbelievable… but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true. In our overly litigious, post-Million Little Pieces, world, publishers vet manuscripts and fact-check, they don’t just print and distribute.

Check out this comment:

Westover’s memoir is gripping and I believe her. Five out of five stars.

Until next time,


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