Chapters 17–23

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1245

Chapter 17: To Keep It Holy

With Faye's help, Tara moves to campus. She struggles to adjust to her new life. She has never lived among "gentiles," as the Westovers call less-strict Mormons, and she has never attended academic classes of any kind. The gaps in her education become particularly evident in one history class, when she raises her hand to ask the definition of a word in the textbook: "Holocaust." The teacher, assuming it is an extremely offensive joke, is not amused.

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Chapter 18: Blood and Feathers

Tara begins to worry about her financial situation as she continues to struggle in class. History is especially challenging. “For most of January," she notes, "I thought Europe was a country, not a continent," and she fails her first exam. She calls home, hoping to talk to Faye, but Gene answers instead. When she tells him how hard it's been, he surprises her by offering comfort instead of a lecture.

Determined to bring her grades up, Tara redoubles her efforts. Her determination pays off, and by the end of the term she is passing all her classes.

Chapter 19: In the Beginning

Tara returns to Buck's Peak for the summer, anxiously awaiting news of her grades. She and Gene clash over her work plans. Tara intends to spend the break working at the grocery store, and Gene expects her to join the family in the scrap yard. Gene prevails, and Tara returns to scrapping with her brothers. This time, she notices a difference in Shawn. He seems peaceful and docile, and he is even studying for his GED. He'd like to study law at community college, he tells her.

When Tara visits the opera house to see their summer play, Charles asks her if she'd like to see a movie. She accepts his invitation, and they have a first date that weekend over a movie and ice cream. Arriving home after, Shawn remarks that Charles has good taste. Tara and Charles see each other every night that week.

Grades are posted that Friday, and Tara discovers that she has done very well. On Saturday morning, she tells Charles about her unexpected success but also of her anxiety. She’s not even sure she should be there, she confides. He asks her if she's angry that her parents kept her out of school, and she deflects. "I'm angry," he tells her, "even if you aren't."

Chapter 20: Recitals of the Fathers

As Tara begins to spend more time with Charles outside the family home, Gene becomes convinced that she's becoming "uppity." Shawn agrees, and the two of them begin assigning her increasingly challenging tasks in the scrapyard. One day, when Tara is covered in black grease from the work, Shawn employs a racial slur to make fun of her.

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Now that Tara is studying history at the university, she has a new context for the word Shawn called her, which makes it especially jarring. Tara has only recently learned about the history of slavery in United States and about the civil rights movement. "Don't call me that," she tells him. "You don't know what it means."

Chapter 21: Skullcap

Before fall term begins, Tara gets a debilitating earache that lasts for several days. Charles, skeptical after hearing she's using herbal remedies of lobelia and skullcap without improvement, gives her two over-the-counter painkillers to help. They're the first pills Tara has ever seen up close, and she takes them with some hesitation. Twenty minutes later, the pain is gone. "I couldn't comprehend its absence," she remarks, having spent a lifetime believing pain to be inevitable.

Tara returns to the university and begins to develop ulcers as she struggles with algebra. Her roommates encourage her to talk to a doctor. She refuses, but she does heed Charles’s advice to speak with her algebra professor. The professor, admitting that many students are struggling, makes a deal: any student who gets a perfect score on the final will pass the class, regardless of their prior grade. Charles agrees to tutor her.

Chapter 22: What We Whispered and What We Screamed

It's Thanksgiving, and Tara returns to Buck's Peak yet again. The family has invited Charles to join them for the holiday meal, and Shawn is resentful of the attention Tara is giving Charles’s arrival. "It's just Charles," he tells her. "His standards aren't that high. He's with you, after all."

When Charles arrives, Shawn's behavior is threatening, territorial, and eventually violent. He regales Charles with stories of his weapons and fighting acumen, pulls Tara onto his lap like a child, and, when she breaks a plate, grabs Tara by the hair and drags her away from the table. She attempts to pull herself away, but Shawn continues to attack her and her toe gets broken. When she finally gets away, she does her best to play it off: “Shawn is so, so, so—funny,” she tells Charles. Unconvinced and uncomfortable, Charles leaves before dinner.

Embarrassed, Tara begins to act volatile toward Charles in the days following Thanksgiving. They break up shortly thereafter.

Tara returns to campus, and her health wanes further. Her stomach ulcers are back, and her broken toe needs an x-ray, but she refuses to see a doctor. Instead, she focuses on her algebra final. Per her professor's promise, a score of 100 will negate her prior failures. Her work pays off, and, to her surprise, she gets a perfect score.

When she returns to Buck's Peak for Christmas, Tara gets another surprise: Gene is encouraging her brother Richard to go to college. "Richard is a genius," he tells her. "He can disprove all them socialist theories and godless speculations. He's gonna get down there and blow up the whole damn system."

Shawn and Tara head to Stokes for an errand, and in the parking lot she sees a familiar sight: Charles's red Jeep. Embarrassed to see him while covered in grime from the construction project they've been doing, Tara says she'll wait in the car. Shawn insists, and when Tara refuses again he grabs her from the car, throws her violently on the pavement of the parking lot, and forces her to go inside with him. Her ankle is injured, but she pretends to be fine as they walk through the store. They don't see Charles.

When she gets home, Tara writes what happened in her journal. A few days later, as her memory fades, she writes a second entry. They're incongruent—one is candid and violent, and the other is forgiving and compliant—but she leaves them both to exist in the book side-by-side.

Chapter 23: I'm From Idaho

Tara begins seeing the campus bishop for counseling after Christmas, and she meets with him weekly through all of winter and spring. When she returns to campus in the fall after a summer working at the Buck's Peak grocery store, she faces an unexpected setback: one of her teeth has fractured, and it will cost fourteen hundred dollars to fix. Intent on preserving her academic path, the bishop attempts to pay for it. Tara refuses.

With nudging from the bishop and her roommate Robin, Tara applies for a grant to help cover her dental expenses. The application requires her parents' tax returns, which Tara knows Gene will never willingly provide, so she goes home to get them herself. When she tells Faye the university needs them, Faye makes copies without asking questions. Her application is successful. Before long, a check arrives for four thousand dollars.

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Chapters 12–16


Chapters 24–29