Incidents in which characters are injured repeat over and over in the memoir. Luke's leg is badly burned, Faye suffers a head injury in a car accident, Tara is also hurt in a car accident, and Gene eventually suffers very severe burns. The motif of injury makes it clear what a dangerous way of life the Westover family leads, and reinforces how Gene's reckless choices cause harm to him and his family. These injuries signal to readers that Tara's childhood home is not a safe or sheltered place for her. While many people would assume that the role of a family is to protect and care for their children, keeping them safe from harm, Tara's parents expose their children to danger. The motif of injury also literalizes the emotional wounds Tara is suffering while growing up in an abusive situation. She cannot always see how much harm is being done to her, but the motif of injury reminds readers that she is regularly being exposed to trauma.

Read about the similar role fire plays as a motif in Jeannette Walls’s memoir, The Glass Castle.

The Mountain

The Westover family settles at the foot of a mountain called Buck's Peak. Imagery of this mountain repeats throughout the memoir, revealing Tara's emotional bond to the place where she grew up. She describes the mountain at all different seasons, and creates the impression of it as sometimes a looming, threatening presence, and sometimes a source of protection. Nonetheless, the sight of the mountain always connects Tara to her past. She describes it as calling out to her, and drawing her back even at times when she is trying to move on and feel settled in other places. Tara's relationship with the mountain mirrors her relationship with her family because it is so powerful, even though it can also feel threatening. Throughout the memoir, Tara travels all around the world, and she admires the beauty of the different places she visits. Still, the only place she ever feels truly at home is when she is in sight of Buck's Peak.


Throughout her memoir, Tara makes note of many obstacles that thwart her development, and while isolation and lack of a formal education present barriers, perhaps the most significant one—the one that threatens to render her stagnant in her youth, and drives her again and again to return to Buck’s Peak as an adult—is shame. No matter how abusive Gene and Shawn prove themselves to be, Tara’s familial obligations complicate her desire for independence. Even though she knows she has to leave Buck’s Peak, she feels guilty for doing so, and has trouble fitting in elsewhere. She has difficulty connecting with her peers, maintaining romantic relationships, and accepting help from others. She feels shame for having left, shame about her upbringing, and shame as a result of the many harmful beliefs she internalized. Thus, her feelings of shame, which arise over and over again, prove to be the great hindrance to her independence.