Summary: Chapter 15: No More a Child

As time passes, Tara becomes more uncomfortably aware that establishing her own identity will require her to rebel against her father and his controlling behavior. After her father warns her again about pursuing college studies, Tara tells her mother that she doesn't think she will go to school after all. Surprisingly, her mother is insistent that Tara ought to go. Tara continues her studies while also helping her father with his scrapping work. She takes the ACT test, but does not feel confident and resigns herself to living the life her father wants her to have.

Noticing that Tara is saving money, her father starts charging her for various household contributions, and on the day her ACT scores arrive, he abruptly tells her to move out. At first her mother agrees, but she relents when Tara emphasizes that she is only sixteen. Shawn goes back to work, and defends Tara when her father demands she work on a dangerous machine known as the Shear. The confrontation between father and son shows that Shawn is getting increasingly fed up with his father, but in the end, both Shawn and Tara end up working together on the dangerous machine.

Summary: Chapter 16: Disloyal Man, Disobedient Heaven

As the months pass, more and more conflicts happen between Shawn and Gene. Tara is studying to retake the ACT, hoping she can improve her score. The summer before Tara turns seventeen, Shawn is in a motorcycle accident. Tara is the only family member present and phones her father to ask what she should do. Gene tells her to bring Shawn home. Tara loads Shawn into the car, intending to drive him home, but at the last minute she changes her mind, and takes him to the hospital instead. In the end, Shawn's injury is not as bad as it appeared, and his parents bring him home. Tara knows this decision to disobey her father marks a fundamental change in their relationship.

Three weeks later, Tara receives notice that her second ACT test has earned a score high enough to make her a competitive applicant to Brigham Young University. She immediately gets a new job working at a grocery store, and submits her college application with Tyler's help. She is quickly accepted, and is scheduled to start college studies in January. She will be only seventeen. Tara and her mother try to find an apartment, but Tara is too overwhelmed to do much else in preparation for her education.


Summary: Chapter 17: To Keep It Holy

Tara moves to Utah, where she will be living with two roommates, Mary and Shannon. Although both girls are also Mormon, they are much less rigid about their faith, which Tara finds shocking. When she begins her classes, Tara realizes that she had not understood there were different levels of classes, and struggles to get into freshman-level courses. Tara is uncomfortably aware that most of her course content makes no sense to her. In this unfamiliar environment, Tara finds herself more drawn to the clarity of the faith and traditions she grew up with.

One day, in art history class, Tara asks what the word Holocaust means. Everyone assumes she is joking around, and responds coldly. After the class, Tara researches the word, and is horrified and shocked to realize her ignorance. Tara begins to disagree with her roommates about her commitment to keeping the Sabbath very strictly.

Summary: Chapter 18: Blood and Feathers

Tara realizes that she seriously underestimated the expenses of attending college, and wonders how she will be able to continue to afford it. Her academic performance is nowhere strong enough to win a scholarship, and she struggles in particular with her Western Civilization course. As Tara wrestles with frustration about her strange and unique childhood, she reflects on a memory of an injured wild owl that she and her siblings saved as children. Surprisingly, when Tara confides her worries to her father, he is sympathetic and suggests that he will help her. Through a chance conversation with a classmate, Tara learns that she is expected to read the textbooks for her classes. Once she starts doing so, her grades improve dramatically.

Analysis: Chapters 15–18

Faye's support for Tara shows that her loyalty and values may be more complex than they initially seem. For much of Tara's childhood, Faye has seemed to embody the life Tara is resistant to living. She tends to appear docile and obedient to her husband and his religious doctrine. It is therefore surprising that when Tara indicates that she might give up on her dream of going to college, Faye is insistent that her daughter should go. Perhaps because of her own life experiences, Faye knows the value of a woman having skills and autonomy. Midwifery and herbalism have given Faye the ability to have some authority and independence, and she wants the same for her daughter. By encouraging Tara not to give up her dream just because she is experiencing setbacks, Faye shows that she is also an ally on Tara's road to independence. Faye's decision to be supportive of Tara's dreams is interesting given that she has never openly supported her daughter when Gene was critical of Tara's dreams. Faye is very committed to the idea of appearing to be an obedient and subservient wife, so she won't openly contradict her husband. In private, however, she will share her true opinions and her true self with her daughter.

Read an in-depth analysis of Faye Westover.

Ironically, Tara reveals her newfound independence by helping the man who is abusing her. Despite everything Shawn has done to her, Tara is horrified when she realizes her brother has been seriously injured. Her initial impulse to phone their father shows that Tara is still partially an obedient daughter, but her next action shocks both her father and herself. Because Tara already has a plan in place for leaving home and entering the wider world, she is emboldened to defy her father for the first time. Tara also acts out of desperation: she has seen what happened to Shawn when he first suffered brain injuries, so it seems particularly important to secure medical treatment now. Her father's lack of reaction is partially an admission of defeat and acceptance: if Tara is willing to deliberately disobey his explicit instructions, Gene knows that he can never fully control her. Tara is already starting to make her own decisions and act according to her own values. Her education becomes possible when she decides she is going to live life on her own terms.

Read more about an important quote from Chapter 16.

Tara's initial experiences at college show that she is both intellectually and socially unprepared. The ACT test relied on skills without context, but much of the college experience relies on assumptions that students know things which Tara is totally ignorant about. Her lack of academic knowledge is actually almost less of a problem than her lack of study skills and social norms. The experience is even more challenging because Tara isolates herself and refuses to ask for help. Tara is ashamed of being different, and also defiantly stubborn about not compromising her values. For these reasons, she doesn't form relationships with new people easily at college, and this makes the adjustment even harder for her.

Even though she struggles when she begins college, Tara shows her resilience and resourcefulness. Her question about the Holocaust is very humiliating, but Tara shows her bravery by imitating the behavior of other students and trying to ask a question in class. Even when she is frustrated by her classes, she doesn't drop out. She is willing to do whatever it takes to finance her education, even though she knows she is facing almost insurmountable obstacles. Perhaps most importantly, Tara has the capacity to learn once she finds the tools that will allow her to do so effectively. As soon as she realizes that reading the textbook is a vital step in the learning process, Tara uses this new information to perform better. Because she is so underprepared, Tara experiences a kind of parallel education alongside her college courses: she learns the class content, and she also learns how to learn it.

Read more about how the knowledge Tara gains in her studies helps her understand the world and gives her a new perspective.