Tara accompanies Shawn when he temporarily takes over his brother Tony's trucking business. During this period of closeness, Shawn playfully nicknames Tara “Siddle Lister.” During one of Tara's rehearsals, Shawn and Tara meet a girl named Sadie, who clearly develops a crush on Shawn. Shawn is sometimes flirtatious with Sadie, but he also seems to be cruel to her. One day, when Shawn shows Tara the same bossy attitude he uses with Sadie, she rebels and dumps a glass of water on his head. Shawn becomes infuriated and physically hurts Tara, forcing her to apologize. Afterward, she concludes that the incident has not affected her, but retrospectively reflects that the incident was deeply traumatic.
By this point in the narrative, it is 2001, and Tara's sister Audrey has gotten married, and her father is warning of an impending holy war that he sees approaching in the future. At fifteen, Tara's body is changing, and she becomes increasingly aware of the way her father criticizes women who wear revealing clothes, or do anything to draw attention to themselves. Tara's friend Charles has confided that he has a crush on Sadie, and after Sadie and Shawn break up, Charles and Sadie go on a date. Shawn flies into a jealous rage, threatening Charles. He seems to be displaying increasingly violent and erratic behavior.
The next morning, Tara awakes to Shawn attacking her and calling her terrible names. Her mother tries to defend her, but has difficulty doing so. Unexpectedly, Tyler comes home and intervenes in the conflict between his brother and sister. He helps Tara to flee. When she returns home, Shawn apologizes to Tara and explains that he is just trying to protect her and save her from becoming sinful. Tyler, however, urges Tara to make a plan to leave, and suggests she consider applying to college. The next day, Tara installs a lock on her bedroom door.
Tara's father expands his construction business, with Shawn working alongside him. Shawn is often angry about his father's refusal to modernize and use safer and more efficient equipment. Meanwhile, Tara is busy with a job she has taken on with a local salesman, who introduces her to the internet and cellphones. Tyler keeps pressing the issue of his sister going to school, suggesting she could study music. Tara eventually becomes intrigued and starts to study for the ACT exam, which she will need to take as part of the college admissions process. However, Tara struggles with learning trigonometry, and finally Tyler helps her. He is about to graduate from an engineering program, and plans to go on to complete a PhD at Purdue University.
Returning from her study session with Tyler, Tara receives a phone call that Shawn has been in an accident. She later learns from Luke and her brother-in-law Benjamin that Shawn fell more than twenty feet onto a concrete wall. He initially seemed uninjured, but starts behaving strangely and aggressively about twenty minutes later. As Luke, Benjamin, and Gene try to restrain Shawn from attacking them, he hits his head on the ground a second time. Whatever happens at this point is so alarming that someone calls 911, and Shawn is airlifted to a hospital.
Tara is initially hesitant to visit Shawn at the hospital because she fears what emotions will surface, but she feels only pity when she finally visits him. Shawn is rushed home as soon as possible and continues to recover there. He and Sadie reunite, and Tara devotes herself to caring for her brother while also progressing in her studies. However, Shawn shows even more violent and erratic tendencies after his injury.