When the semester ends, Tara returns home for the summer. She does not yet know whether she will be able to return to college in the fall; her grades need to be good enough to earn her a scholarship. Tara is eager to return to working at the local grocery store in order to earn money, but her father insists that she return to scrapping. Faced with the threat that she will not be able to live at home unless she goes back to scrapping, Tara quits her job at the grocery store.
Tara's old friend Charles takes an interest in her, and asks her out on a date. Shyly, Tara begins to spend more and more time with him. She is also delighted to learn that she has been awarded a scholarship, and can return to college in the fall. Although Tara has hoped that Charles will make a romantic gesture, she panics the first time he tries to touch her.
Tara's education and new worldliness, as well as her budding relationship with Charles, attract the attention of Shawn and her father. Both men are determined to put Tara in her place. Tara finds the experience of interacting with her father and brother uncomfortable in light of her newly acquired knowledge. For example, her brother uses a racial epithet as a nickname for her. This has not bothered Tara in the past, but she now knows about the history of slavery and the civil rights movement. She understands how wrong it is for her brother to use this term, but she is also powerless to stop him.
Shortly before Tara is supposed to go back to college, she experiences a severe earache. None of her mother's herbal remedies provide any relief, and when she mentions her pain to Charles, he offers her pain medication. After hesitantly taking the medication, Tara is shocked that her pain disappears.
Tara returns to school, moving in with her new roommates, Robin, Megan, and Jenni. Robin helps Tara learn about some of the social norms she has not previously understood. Tara struggles with her algebra class, and the stress leads her to develop stomach ulcers. Despite the pain, Tara refuses to see a doctor and also takes on additional work as a janitor. She is going home to Buck's Peak for Thanksgiving, and she asks Charles if he will help her study algebra during this time.
Tara returns home, and is nervous about having Charles come to dinner. When Shawn taunts her, the two of them end up in a physical struggle. Once Charles arrives, Shawn attacks Tara again. She is panicked and desperate to prevent Charles from seeing her abuse. Charles rushes out of the house, but he and Tara meet up later that night. She tells him that everything is fine. Driven by shame, Tara and Charles eventually break up.