I am in awe of Tara Westover. After finishing the book I watched some of her book tour interviews. I am simply amazed at this brilliant, poised, well-spoken woman. That she could raise herself from her unorthodox, fraught beginnings into a profoundly intelligent, wise, and emotionally balanced person seems miraculous, but it wasn’t a miracle. She did it all by herself.It’s not that there was no love to ground her. She and her six siblings and parents loved each other. She was raised in rugged Idaho in the shadow of Buck’s Peak, good bedrock from which to form an identity. Her parents followed the Mormon religion, but they practiced a version far from the mainstream. (The author clearly states that this is not a book about Mormonism.) Led by the father, Gene, the family pursued a survivalist ideology (hording supplies and gasoline to prepare for the “Days of Abomination”) and was deeply distrustful of all educational, medical, and government entities. Gene persuaded Tara’s mother, Faye (in spite of her his wife’s initial timidity) to become a midwife and herbal healer, schooled only by another midwife. This would ensure that family and future descendants would have no need of the medical establishment.Gene was probably mentally ill—possibly bipolar or paranoid, but fully functioning and charismatic. He was blind to risk and often put his children into dangerous situations. In fact, members of the family experienced multiple, very serious accidents and injuries. His wife was an enabler, aiding, abetting, and justifying his recklessness and doing her best to heal the family’s traumatic injuries and burns.Tara’s older brothers spent time in public schools before Gene became more radial and pulled them out. The parents claim that they home-schooled their children, but Tara’s education consisted mainly of working in her father’s junk yard, sorting scrap and performing all manner of perilous, physical duties. Faye was more enthusiastic about schooling than Gene, particularly about reading. She would attempt to conduct morning classes and Gene would herd the kids into the junkyard as soon as her back was turned. There were books in the house and the children were taken to the library. The family also attended church. So the author’s early education was spotty. She herself said “Learning in our family was entirely self-directed: you could learn anything you could teach yourself, after your work was done.” Her brother Tyler to whom she dedicated the book was able to get into college and against his father’s exhortations, leave home for an education.It was Tyler’s example and support when Tara was undergoing brutal physical and mental abuse from older brother Shawn (unacknowledged by her parents) that inspired her to contemplate leaving the family home. This led her to take on the Herculean task of educating herself to get a high enough ACT test score to get into Brigham Young University. From there she describes the arduous, often uncomfortable and embarrassing path to enlightenment and a previously unthinkable level of academic success.After I finished the book, I Googled the family’s essential oils business, which is now quite financially successful. I also read her brother, Tyler’s blog, as well as several accusatory, low-rated Amazon reviews. There is some real venom directed toward Tara. Her siblings have differing memories, in part justified by the age span among the seven of them. I am troubled by comparisons to James Frey’s notorious memoir, A Million Little Pieces, which after initial success was exposed as mainly fiction. Tara speaks of being gaslighted. She is estranged from certain members of her family, an action often deemed necessary by mental health professionals to protect patients’ fragile sense of self when dealing with extremely dysfunctional families. The author is careful to acknowledge that memories vary among family members (even citing differences) and points out that hers are not infallible. She speaks of having a mental breakdown while working toward her PhD at Cambridge, soon after she cut off contact with her parents.I believe her. I sincerely hope she will continue to follow her own hard-fought course and not succumb to gaslighting and venom. I pray for her. She paid dearly for the identity for which she has so valiantly strived. I hope she has all the support she needs and finds the peace and happiness she deserves. She is an absolute inspiration to me.