Faye Westover: Tara’s Cruel, Anti-Medicine Mother (Educated)

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Educated" by Tara Westover. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here.

Who is Faye Westover? What is Faye’s relationship with her daughter Tara like? And why isn’t Tara Westover currently in contact with her mother?

Faye Westover is the fictional name Tara Westover gives her mother in her memoir Educated.

We’ll look at Faye Westover’s relationship with the author and cover parts of Educated that might indicate why Tara no longer has a relationship with her mother.

Faye Westover’s Herbal Remedies

Faye’s husband Gene believed that the “Medical Establishment” injected brainwashing drugs into people’s bodies. As a result, he refused to let the children go to the doctor, even when they sustained grievous injuries working in his junkyard or when they got debilitatingly sick.

His wife Faye Westover acted as the family’s primary medical caregiver, concocting homeopathic remedies for the children. Tara and her siblings were treated with their mothers’ herbal mixtures of calendula, lobelia, and witch hazel.

Once, when Tara was 12, she started suffering from painful sore throats. After Faye failed to reduce her swelling with echinacea and calendula, Tara was instructed to let the sun shine into her throat—to allow the supposed healing powers of the sun to cure her. For a month that winter, she laid out in the backyard of their home for up to 30 minutes every day,  with her mouth agape, to no effect whatsoever.

Nevertheless, Faye’s alleged expertise in homeopathic medicine won her a reputation as an effective healer among those in the area who similarly rejected medical science. When Tara was a child, Faye became an assistant to a midwife named Judy, helping this woman with home births for families who rejected conventional prenatal care or hospital deliveries. Faye’s entrance into the world of midwifery was largely at Gene’s behest, who insisted that it would be important for the family’s self-reliance if Faye knew how to deliver their future children (and grandchildren) free from the oppressive clutches of the state. 

Faye Westover’s Midwifery

Tara soon came to see just how risky and frightening unlicensed midwifery could be. Faye was clearly distraught by the idea of wielding this kind of responsibility, in which life and death hung in the balance.

She shared stories with Tara of births in which the mother suffered from uncontrollable hemorrhaging, or where the baby had the umbilical cord wrapped around its neck. These were situations that could have been easily resolved had they taken place in a hospital setting: but they didn’t, and Faye had to guide the mother and child through these situations with her fragmentary medical knowledge. Still, she helped deliver dozens of babies under Judy’s “tutelage.” Eventually, when Judy moved away, Faye took over as head midwife.

The risks were high. Midwifery was legal in the state, but Faye had no license to practice it. If a delivery went wrong, she could face severe civil and even criminal penalties. While still harrowing, Tara sees with hindsight that her mother derived a genuine sense of purpose from serving as a midwife. For Faye, it was thoroughly empowering: she was in charge, she wielded awesome responsibilities, and she was bringing in real money. This money even enabled the family to reinstall the phone line, which Gene had previously removed. Even Gene was willing to set aside his usual strictures against women working, as he believed that Faye’s midwifery was a form of rebellion against the government.

Tara recalls accompanying her mother to a delivery when she was nine. To this point, she had been proud of her mother’s work, and saw how the other people who were off the grid in their corner of Idaho respected her. On the way to the delivery, Faye rehearsed with Tara what the protocol would be if the Feds arrived. She was instructed to say nothing and give no information to the authorities. Tara was becoming aware of the risks. As her mom told her, “All it takes is one mistake, and you’ll be visiting me in prison.”

Faye Westover’s Transformation

After a horrible car crash involving the whole family, Faye came out worst of all. Although she was never properly treated for it, her post-crash symptoms as described by Tara clearly point to a severe and permanently damaging concussion.

Tara recalls that her mother was never quite the same after the accident. She had difficulty being around bright lights, and confined herself to the basement for a week after the crash, where she could rest in darkness. Her eyes, meanwhile, had swollen to a deep black. Later, Tara would learn that these “raccoon eyes” were a classic sign of serious brain injury. She would also continue to suffer from near-constant migraines, for which her homeopathic remedies were of little use. Most troublingly, Faye’s short-term memory was impaired. In the ensuing months, she would repeatedly call Tara by the names of her siblings.

One might have thought that the trauma she suffered would have been a wake-up call to Faye, vividly demonstrating to her the danger in which her husband had placed the entire family. But the opposite happened. Her survival only seemed to deepen Faye’s belief in her healing powers. Although still clearly suffering from the effects of the concussion, Faye redoubled her efforts to manufacture large batches of essential oils out of herbs like eucalyptus, sandalwood, and ravensara. She mixed different combinations together, believing that each mix had specific properties that could cure specific ailments. Over the years, she would create dozens of these “medicines.”

She also delved deeper into pseudo-scientific New Age “energy healing,” believing that she could use the power of energy to cure injuries and disease, simply by laying her hands on someone in the right places and applying the right amount of pressure. She claimed that God was working through her fingers. Tara recalls diagrams of chakras and pressure points appearing throughout the house around this time.

Soon, Faye began selling her blended oils and charging clients for “energy work.” She may have had no license or training, but Tara’s mother was well on her way to becoming the established medical authority for fellow off-the-grid families in their county. Eventually, Faye came to believe that she could diagnose illnesses simply by touching people and objects. In effect, she had come to believe that she possessed magical powers. 

Faye Westover, Teacher

The only early education Tara received had been homeschooling from her mother. Faye would announce the beginning of these sessions by declaring that they would be “doing school.” Initially, Faye had been idealistic about homeschooling, believing that she was offering her children a better education than what they would receive in public school. Even homeschooling, however, soon ran afoul of Gene’s ideological and religious fanaticism. He wanted the children to learn practical skills, and fought with Faye to have them start working in the family’s junkyard.

Just as with her midwifery and her homeopathy, Faye had no formal training or license to properly conduct homeschooling. Sadly, the results showed. Tara’s brother Luke was barely literate, while Tara herself had almost no instruction in basic math. Faye’s only teaching materials were some paperbacks and a motley collection of old textbooks. When she was “reading” her math textbook, Tara would usually just run her finger down the centerfold of the page—when it reached the bottom, she credited herself with having “read” the page. Occasionally, however, Tara’s literary diet would be supplemented by trips to the local library, where she and her siblings were able to read some children’s books.

Even this makeshift schooling came to an end when Gene’s ideology hardened and became even more extreme as Tara grew older. “Doing school” had ceased altogether by the time she was eight.

Faye Westover Fails to Protect Her Daughters

Tara’s older brother Shawn repeatedly abused her and other women. In speaking about one incident with her sister Audrey, Tara learned that she, too, had been abused by Shawn. Being her older sister, Audrey had experienced all of it first.

Audrey would later recount to Tara via email that she never believed their mother would intervene to stop him and protect her daughters. But she was determined to do something about it now, before the situation escalated any further. Tara was afraid to reveal the abuse to her parents out of fear that they already knew and had chosen to do nothing about it.

The day after the sisters’ email exchange, Audrey confronted Faye about Shawn. Later that evening, Faye got in touch with Tara online to discuss the matter further. Faye confessed to having looked the other way at what her son was doing to her daughters. She had wanted to believe that Shawn was irrational and not in control of his actions and, therefore, not responsible for them. Faye acknowledged that she should have protected Tara and Audrey. It seemed like they had reached a breakthrough. But Faye’s support and understanding would sadly prove to be illusory.

When Tara returned to Buck’s Peak for a funeral, Audrey told Tara that nothing had changed. No one had taken any action at all.

When Tara herself confronted her parents, Gene was outraged—at Tara. He demanded “proof” of the violent acts that Tara told him about. Tara insisted that he didn’t need proof, that the truth was plain and obvious and had been right in front of his face for years.

Faye, meanwhile, sat by completely silent, failing to rise in defense of Tara’s claims. Gene insisted that Shawn be given an opportunity to answer the charges in person. When Shawn came in, he gave Tara a knife that was covered in blood. He then told her that if she didn’t use the knife on herself, he would use it on her. This threat, made right in front of Faye and Gene, met with only mild rebukes from them. Tara fled the scene early the next morning, quite understandably in fear for her life.

The Final Break From Faye Westover

Still, Tara yearned to be part of her family. The heartache of being separated from them was destroying her. She decided to return to Buck’s Peak for one last chance to reconcile. She showed up for a surprise visit. Faye was ecstatic when Tara came through the door. For a moment, Tara felt as though she was still loved, still accepted for who she was.

That was, until she went to the family computer to send an email. She happened to see a previously sent email open in the browser, from Faye to Erin, one of Shawn’s ex-girlfriends. In the email, Faye sang Shawn’s praises as being a changed man who had been reborn and spiritually cleansed. Later in the message, Faye castigated Tara as a liar and a danger to the rest of the family. She said that Tara was lost and without faith.

The message was clear: Faye would never defend Tara and truly believed that the latter was the source of the family’s problems. It was now clear that this was no longer Tara’s home, and hadn’t been for a long time. There was nothing left on Buck’s Peak for Tara, nothing for her to cherish or hold on to.

She made an excuse that she was going to her car to take a drive. She got in her car and drove away—away from Buck’s Peak, and away from her former life

Faye Westover: Tara’s Cruel, Anti-Medicine Mother (Educated)

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of "Educated" at Shortform. Learn the book's critical concepts in 20 minutes or less.

Here's what you'll find in our full Educated summary:

  • How Tara Westover was abused by her brother as a child
  • Why Tara's parents set up the children for failure
  • How Tara ultimately broke out of her parents' grasp and succeeded for herself
Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *