Summary: Chapter 23: I'm from Idaho

Tara is asked out on dates by several men in her church congregation, but she turns them down. As a result, she is called into a meeting with the bishop. Noticing that something is wrong, the bishop asks Tara to keep meeting with him. To her surprise, she starts to talk openly with him about her life and her family.

When the semester ends, Tara needs to go home and work. The bishop recommends she stay away, offering to give her money for her rent, but Tara insists on returning. The bishop does get her to promise that she will not work for her father, so Tara returns to working at the grocery store instead. As a result, she returns to school with much less money than she needs. Two weeks into the semester, she comes down with severe tooth pain that requires expensive dental work. Her parents offer to lend her the money on the condition she works for them next summer, and she refuses to do so. Tara tries to ignore the pain.

Learning about the suffering Tara endures, the bishop suggests she apply for a grant or take money from the church, but she refuses to do either. Tara spends a desperate semester barely scraping by, and by Christmas break, she has no money left. She plans to move to Las Vegas to live with her brother Tony. Then, Shawn surprises Tara by giving her just enough money to return to school in January. Still, Tara can barely pay her bills, even with a second job, and the bishop keeps urging her to apply for a grant. Finally, Tara submits the application. She receives a grant and, for the first time, feels financially secure. She also knows she will not need to work for her father ever again.

Summary: Chapter 24: A Knight, Errant

With her financial problems resolved, Tara focuses on her studies again. Based on a lecture in her psychology class, she begins to suspect that her father is mentally ill. This idea also leads her to research the shooting of the Weaver family at Ruby Ridge. Her father has always told her this story in the context of a family having been mercilessly killed by federal agents after refusing to send their children to school. Tara learns that while family members, including children, were killed, the conflict was triggered by Weaver's involvement in white nationalist movements. Her father's paranoid delusions caused him to completely misinterpret events.

Tara begins to research and write about bipolar disorder. She becomes much angrier, and eventually confronts her father about the way his behavior has impacted her life. She stays in Utah for the summer. She moves to an apartment, interns at a law firm, and starts dating a man named Nick. When she falls ill, Nick insists she see a doctor. Tara is prescribed antibiotics and tells her mother, who is disappointed with her for turning to scientific medicine. The next morning, Audrey calls to tell Tara that their father has been in a serious accident.

Summary: Chapter 25: The Work of Sulphur

Tara reflects on a family story. When her grandfather was seriously injured while working alone on the mountain, angels came to help him and saved his life. Her father has been injured in an accident where a fuel tanker exploded, and has suffered severe burns to his face and fingers. Tara goes to Idaho, horrified by her father's condition. Against all odds, Gene slowly begins to recover.

Analysis: Chapters 23–25

The bishop is the first person whom Tara truly trusts and opens herself up to. Because he is an authority figure, Tara is obedient enough to keep meeting with him even though she initially has no desire to tell him anything. Tara does not include many details about the bishop's reaction to her stories, but it is clear that he is a non-judgmental presence. Rather than blaming Tara, he does everything he can to help her. Even more than the practical support he offers, his reaction is vital to allowing Tara to trust others and build relationships for herself. She has always feared that if she tells anyone the truth about her past and her family, they will turn against her. Instead, the bishop's reaction shows Tara that people can show her compassion and offer help.

Financial support becomes increasingly crucial to Tara's education; hard work and determination alone are not enough to ensure success. Tara is very intellectually gifted, and she does everything in her power to afford her education. Nonetheless, she comes close to hitting rock bottom several times. Shawn and the bishop help her secure the money she needs to continue her education. The money from Shawn, even though it is a small amount, is emotionally complex in the context of their abusive relationship. The money from the grant should feel more straightforward, but Tara actually feels more shame about applying for a government grant. Nonetheless, the money Tara receives liberates her, allowing her to fully devote her attention to her studies. This change is reflected in Tara's interest and academic performance, which shows how adequate finances are crucial to academic success for any student.

The knowledge Tara gains makes her increasingly skeptical and angry about the way she has been forced to live her life. Tara realizes that she has been denied accurate information about how the world works, especially after discovering mental illness, the true nature of what happened at the Weaver shoot-out, and the effectiveness of painkillers. Her ideas and beliefs have all been formed through a distorted lens, and now she needs to reconsider them. Tara is finally independent enough to look at the way her family raised her, and see that she has been mistreated and denied opportunities which most other children had. This anger fuels her to push away from her family.

Read more about how, through education, Tara is able to discover new communities, and is no longer dependent on her family.

Gene's terrible burns reflect the tragic nature of his life. Faye is sufficiently terrified by her husband's injury that she is willing to seek medical aid, but Gene's beliefs are so ingrained that he refuses. The fact that he hangs on to his beliefs even amidst agonizing physical pain—and the very real possibility that he might die—shows just how warped his worldview is. Gene's pain is important because it creates pity for him on both Tara's behalf, and the behalf of the reader. At this point, he seems more and more like a villain because of the childhood he has imposed on Tara and his other children. The way he suffers due to his mental illness and paranoia shows that he is also a victim of his own fate.

Read more about how the motif of injury makes it clear what a dangerous way of life the Westover family leads.