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1-Page Summary of Educated
In the memoir Educated, Tara Westover tells the story of her journey to obtain an education. She grew up in a family that had little regard for modern ways and didn’t send their children to school or take them to doctors. But when she was accepted into Brigham Young University at 16 years old, she began learning about herself and the world around her through education.
A memoir is a first-person account of someone’s life and experiences. Educated is a memoir, so it tells the story from Westover’s point of view. The book begins with her childhood memories in Idaho and ends when she began attending Brigham Young University at age 18. The book spans 1993 to 2014, approximately.
The memoir begins with Westover’s childhood memories. She was born into a family of Mormons living in Idaho and spent most of her time at home, working on chores and spending little time socializing with neighbors or friends. Outsiders would come to the house for work: to help Westover’s mother deliver babies or to work for Westover’s father, who ran a junkyard. At age 11, she started helping her mother around the house until she was old enough to start working in her father’s junkyard crew when he would have mood swings that led him make poor decisions. He also often became paranoid about his religious beliefs regarding the apocalypse and thought they had to prepare their homes accordingly.
After the apocalypse did not happen in 2000, Gene became more interested in finding things to do with his life. He took up hobbies like dancing and piano lessons, and eventually got involved with theater productions. He met other kids who were different from him by growing up on a mountain without electricity or running water, but he still wanted to fit into their world.
When she was 13, her older brother came home to help their father out at work for a while. The older brother started abusing her emotionally and physically. His abuse was all about his power and control as a man; when Westover went through puberty and began wearing makeup and showing interest in boys, the abuse got even worse. She didn’t know what to do because he blamed everything on her. In fact, both of her parents witnessed the abuse but did nothing about it or told Westover that it was all her fault.
A woman named Tara Westover grew up in Idaho and was homeschooled by her father, who didn’t believe in the government. She went to college when she was 17 at Brigham Young University (BYU), but had a difficult time adjusting to its academic expectations. Through mentors and grants, she got through school and then pursued a master’s degree and PhD from Cambridge University in England. Her education broadened her worldview, which led to conflict with her family because they were against it. Tara finally stood up for herself against abuse by calling out her parents for letting it happen all these years.
Westover’s family does not support her when she tries to break free of their ways. This leads Westover into a deep depression and nearly causes her to fail out of school, but she finds hope with the help from her older brother. She finishes school and realizes that education is what freed her from the life she had been living all along.
Full Summary of Educated
Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, is an account of her life. In the book, she discusses how she was born in rural Idaho and grew up as a Mormon survivalist. She talks about her family members and how they were raised by their father who ran a scrapyard on their property. Tara recounts that her mother was injured in a car accident and sustained serious brain injuries from it.
Tara grew up with her grandmother, who she called Grandma-over-in-town. She learned from her that the rest of the family was religious and therefore took part in a different lifestyle than normal. Tara also missed one of her brothers when he left to go to college, which caused Tara to learn more about Mormon doctrines on her own. When she became a teenager, she began getting physically abused by another brother, which made Tara want to get away from home as soon as possible. To do this, Tara started taking singing and dancing lessons so people wouldn’t see how much trouble she was having at home. Eventually, after learning some math on her own and doing well on the ACTs (a test for college), Tara decided it would be best if she went off to college herself instead of continuing at home with Gene’s abuse.
In Part Two, Tara goes to BYU (Brigham Young University) for her first year of college. She struggles with the religious differences between herself and her roommates, as well as the gaps in her education that she has to catch up on. However, despite this struggle she manages to get good grades by studying hard and getting help from tutors at school. In addition, she finds a boyfriend while at home over summer break named Charles who witnesses some abuse by Shawn towards Tara; he tells her not to stay with him anymore but Tara doesn’t listen because she feels like it’s normal for him.
Tara’s father, Gene, is injured in an explosion at his junkyard. He survives but needs a lot of medical attention. Tara returns home to help her mother care for him and provide financial support. The bishop from her church provides some money so that she can pay rent and receive dental treatment. Tara hears news that she has been accepted into Cambridge University as part of the exchange program. She decides to stay there for graduate school because the professor whom she met while visiting was very encouraging and inspired her to do better academically.
Tara has a hard time adjusting to university life in Cambridge. She is mostly friends with upper-class students, and she feels like an outsider. After meeting two other women who are also outsiders, Tara gains a feminist perspective that helps her understand why her father treated his wife the way he did. When Tara goes home for Christmas break, she learns that Shawn’s new wife Emily was abused by him when they were dating and decides to tell everyone about it. Soon after this incident, Audrey tells Tara that she too had been abused by their brother before leaving home at sixteen years old. Tara confronts Gene about what happened to Audrey and then realizes how much her mother suffered because of Gene’s paranoia over the years.
For her PhD dissertation, Tara wants to investigate Mormonism. Although she had a bad experience at Buck’s Peak the last time she was there, Tara decides to go home for Christmas anyway. While there, Shawn tells her that he plans on killing Audrey because of how much Audrey hates him and his family. He also tells Tara that if anything happens to him or his family, it would be her fault. Disturbed by Shawn’s threats against Audrey and herself, Tara tries talking with Gene about all this but he doesn’t believe what she has to say about Shawn being dangerous. Instead of believing in what his daughter is saying about their son-in-law being so violent towards them all (especially since they’re Mormon), Gene makes excuses for why things are happening the way they are and denies everything that Tara says as not true or proof enough of these allegations against Shawn. Fearing for her safety after seeing the pocket knife drop from Shawn’s hand into hers when he tried grabbing onto her arm while trying to explain himself (which ended up cutting both of them), Tara runs away from home without telling anyone where she went until now because no one believed any part of what she said before then either…
Tara goes to Cambridge and receives a letter from Audrey about Shawn, which makes Tara think that she’s possessed by the devil. Gene, Faye, and Audrey think that Tara is crazy because of her feelings for Shawn. After this happens, Tara becomes depressed and stops talking to anyone in her family except for Lenny. In September, she moves to Cambridge for school at Harvard University.
One day, Tara receives news that her parents are coming to Harvard to save her. During their visit, Gene and Faye travel to the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York in hopes of reconverting Tara. Tara does not yield to their wishes and they flee in a hurry. Following this experience, Tara experiences night terrors and stops working on her thesis. She returns home following this failure but realizes she can’t reconcile with them and goes back to Cambridge where she succeeds at school but loses all connection with her family again.
Tara’s family is not very supportive of her. They don’t like Gene, the person she loves and married. In fact, they’re so opposed to him that they never let Tara see them without his presence. Tara tries to reconcile with them a few times but eventually gives up when Faye refuses to meet her daughter alone because it would mean meeting Gene as well. However, one day she receives news of her grandmother’s death and goes home for the funeral. She sees all of her estranged siblings there and explains how every year she came back hoping things will get better but instead were met by disapproval from everyone in town except for Faye who still treated her like family despite everything else going on around them. The memoir concludes with Tara recognizing that although things might be bad now, thanks to formal and informal education she has been given the tools needed in order grow into the scholar and citizen she wants to become regardless of what people think about this decision or how much support they give her along the way
Tara’s Early Childhood
Tara begins her story by describing a memory that she actually made up. She imagines watching as her mother falls to the ground while holding a baby. Tara uses this image of her mother to describe how close she was with her family, particularly their father and grandmother. Tara explains that they were survivalists who lived in Idaho; they prepared for the end of the world since before Tara could remember. When she was young, Tara plotted with her grandmother to escape from Idaho, but when another survivalist family got into trouble with the government, it spoiled those plans.
Tara’s mother is a midwife, and she works with Judy. Tara assists her mother when she is not in school. Her mother initially does not want to be a midwife because of the trauma from her first birth experience, but she has no choice due to financial issues. She eventually becomes the local midwife after Judy leaves for Wyoming.
Tara explores her parents’ backgrounds. Her mother, whom she refers to by a pseudonym, was raised in an environment where the family put on appearances and pretended that everything was fine. Tara’s maternal grandmother dressed up her daughter in elaborate outfits to make her look feminine. However, Tara’s father grew up in the same rural community as Tara and became more radical with age.
Tara remembers a trip her family took when she was younger. Her mother suggested that they drive to Arizona for vacation, but on the way there, Tara’s brother fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a pole. Their mom was seriously injured in the accident, and even after all these years later, she still has migraines from it. She stays in the basement to avoid light and sound because of how traumatizing this event was for her life.
Tara’s older brother, Tyler, decides to go to college. Tara is upset by this decision because she doesn’t want him to leave Buck’s Peak. She spends more time at her grandmother’s house so that she can be close with her brother and keep him from leaving home. She begins to see the importance of education and realizes there are many ways for people in society to live their lives.
After Tyler moves away for college, Audrey begins working outside of the home. As a result, Gene is short-staffed at his scrapyard. Despite her young age, Tara takes on some of the dangerous work. Faye also returns to midwifery and dabbles in herbalism and muscle testing as well. Tara misses Tyler and reads Mormon doctrines to educate herself about what he’s doing in college.
One day, Tara’s brother Luke gets severely burned in the scrapyard. Their mother Faye has been called to help with a birth, and so Tara is left alone to care for him. This memory scars Tara deeply, and she is forced to grapple with her inconsistent memories of the incident. She wonders about Gene’s role in Luke’s injury, and she begins to see how dangerous working at the scrapyard can be. Therefore, she decides that it would be best if she could find a way out of home as soon as possible. So Tara begins looking for ways to escape home by following Audrey’s footsteps—getting a job in town—but Gene disapproves because he wants his daughter close by so he can keep an eye on her. He then supports her decision to take dance lessons instead of pursuing other activities outside of their small community; however this doesn’t last long either when he finds out about it. Eventually they come around again when Gene discovers that his daughter has started singing in Mormon choirs but only after being asked repeatedly not do anything else outside their community like dancing or acting (which are banned).
The author begins her memoir by introducing a memory that is not necessarily true. Memoirs are usually stories about an individual’s life, including both public and private memories. The narrator of the story has a complicated relationship with her own memories, as she is an academic historian who thinks critically about them.
Tara Westover asserts that she can tell the difference between a real memory and a fabricated one. She uses her experience as an author to show how she’s reclaiming the story of her mother, who was denied it by others. She also addresses womanhood and motherhood in this first paragraph, which is important because it shows how people treat women with violence in their lives.
Tara wants to understand how her parents became extremists. She realizes that her mother rebelled against her conservative upbringing, and Tara believes that Gene’s mental illness may have contributed to his survivalist lifestyle. Tara also explores the concept of intergenerational trauma by looking into the childhoods of both of her parents. In doing so, she determines that their extreme views were passed down from previous generations.
Tara is the youngest of seven siblings. She watches as her older siblings grow up and leave home, paving their own way in life. Tara becomes envious of Tyler’s decision to go to college; however, she also learns from his example by teaching herself how to read through scripture. Later on, this educational experience will change Tara’s academic pursuits forever.
Tara notices that her mother is the one who works and makes money for their family. Gene does not have a job, so he stays home with Tara and takes care of her while Faye is at work. Luke’s accident also changed Tara’s perspective on metalworking because she sees how dangerous it can be. She wants to find another way to make money, so she will spend less time at home.
Exploring Life Beyond Buck’s Peak
In 1999, Tara prepares for her lead role in the musical Annie while her father prepares for Y2K. He predicts that a computer bug will cause widespread chaos and destruction on January 1, 2000. The family spends months preparing for this supposed end of the world by stocking up food and water supplies. They even skip Christmas celebrations to prepare for it. However, nothing happens when the year changes over to 2000; Gene is ridiculed by his neighbors who call him an idiot because he was wrong about his prediction. Tara grows sick with inflamed tonsils and Gene suggests that she stand in the sun with her mouth open as a remedy; however, she’s not convinced it’ll work until she sees how effective it is after several days of doing so. When everyone realizes that they’ve been duped into believing something false yet again (like Santa Claus), they become cynical about everything else too—including religion which causes them to lose faith in God as well.
Gene’s family decides to go on a trip to Arizona in order to avoid the harsh Idaho winters. On their way there, Gene drives recklessly and causes an accident that disorients Tara and causes her headaches. She is bed-ridden for a month until Shawn cracks her back which cures her of her ailment.
After recovering from her injuries, Tara learns how to ride a horse. Although she is uncomfortable with the training sessions, Shawn forces her into an unpleasant situation. As Tara takes a ride on Bud, one of the horses, she gets her foot stuck in the stirrup and has no way of freeing it. Luckily for Tara, however, she trusts herself enough to remain on the horse until Shawn can come and rescue her.
Tara tells of her relationship with Shawn and how they’ve been through a lot together. She recalls an experience when she and Shawn were driving the other brother’s truck, along the west coast, while running their own rig. During that time, Tara learns some lessons in self-defense from Shawn. The two seem to have a close bond at this point in their lives. Later on, however, Shawn begins dating Sadie and his behavior changes completely—he becomes physically and emotionally abusive towards Tara. As these incidents occur more often over time, it becomes clear that home is no longer safe for Tara to live in; therefore she decides to move out on her own without telling anyone about what happened between her and Shayne (Shawn).
Shawn’s anger issues continue, and one morning Tara wakes up to find him choking her in their bed. He may have bipolar disorder because he goes from being angry to remorseful very quickly. During one of his fits, Tyler returns home and stops the incident from escalating further. This gives Tara a moment to reflect on her life and understand that she is outgrowing Shawn.
Tyler encourages Tara to go to college. Tyler is aware that getting a degree can help her escape an abusive home, and he knows the importance of studying for the ACT in order to be admitted. He helps Tara study trigonometry and algebra so she can get into a good school. While Tara prepares for her future, Shawn falls at work and sustains a life-threatening brain injury.
Although Shawn survives his accident, he is mentally ill afterwards. Tara studies hard because of her home life and gets a score of 28 on the ACT. She applies to BYU but learns that she has been accepted in January.
Tara is involved in a local production of Annie, but she doesn’t care much about it. However, Gene’s involvement in the Y2K crisis makes her want to distance herself from him and his paranoia. The story of Annie represents Tara’s childhood as well as her relationship with Gene. In the Broadway play, Annie was orphaned during the Great Depression in 1933. She stood out because of her red hair and bravery
Annie’s life isn’t easy. She has to deal with a lot of challenges, but she is able to overcome them using her optimism and positive outlook on life. The play centers around the importance of hope, optimism, and justice. Tara also had a tough childhood because of her neglectful parents and poverty. However, both Annie and Tara are determined to make something out of their lives despite their hardships in childhood.
In this section, Tara describes her childhood and the effects of her father’s mood swings. Her father is a depressive who gets very angry in the winter when they travel to Arizona. He drives too fast on icy roads, and Tara knows something bad will happen but she can’t do anything about it because she’s just a kid. She ends up getting hurt really badly because of how he drives.
Tara talks about her relationship with Shawn. She has many positive memories of him, and he was very protective towards her when they were growing up. He’s also a survivor, and he saved Tara from an accident in which she could have been killed by a horse. However, as the memoir progresses, it becomes clear that Shawn is becoming increasingly aggressive. He’s not safe for Tara anymore because he compromises his safety as well as hers at times.
Tara is encouraged to attend college by Tyler. He helps her prepare for the ACT and encourages her to do well on it. She realizes that she needs help with writing and analytical skills, which she receives from him. Tara then gets accepted into BYU, but leaves Buck’s Peak when she goes there because things are so bad at home.
Tara Goes to College
In her first year of college, Tara has a hard time adjusting to the new environment. She is not used to living with roommates who do not follow religious doctrine as strictly as she does. In addition, in an introductory class on history, Tara asks what “holocaust” means when it is mentioned in class. The more time that Tara spends at school, the more she realizes how much she doesn’t know about certain things.
Tara is having a hard time paying her bills and staying in school. She’s failing Western Civilization class, which puts her scholarship at risk. After talking to Vanessa, she realizes that she never purchased the textbook for that class. She buys it and studies it, improving her grades on exams as well as tests on the material covered in the book.
Tara returns home for the summer and resumes her job at the scrapyard. She begins to date Charles again, but she must deal with drama from Gene’s family life as well. Although Tara wants to work at a grocery store, Gene insists that if she is going to live under his roof, then she’ll have to work at his scrapyard. The longer Tara stays home during the summer break, the more memories of BYU fade away in her mind. However, halfway through the summer break, Tara realizes that all of her classes are done and that she can go back on scholarship because all of her credits transferred over perfectly without any problems; therefore, there was no need for her to stay an extra semester this year.
While at home, Tara thinks about her college coursework. She was shocked to learn that slavery and racism occurred during her lifetime. Furthermore, she grew disgusted by the actions of white people in America.
Shawn and Gene notice Tara has changed since she’s been away at school. She is now different from the rest of them because she has grown up a little. They make fun of her constantly and call her weird, thinking that being different makes someone not normal or good enough for their group. After the summer Tara goes back to school, but realizes she can’t do well in algebra so she cleans offices on campus and works as a janitor at night to gain more money. Her roommates try to help by geting her off herbal medications, which only seem to be hurting her, but they know it isn’t right even though it’s what they have done before as well.
During her time at home, Tara is abused by her boyfriend. Her roommate Charles witnesses this abuse, which mortifies Tara. Although Charles tells Tara that her home environment is unhealthy and harmful for her health, she grows oppositional to Charles’ care. They break up before the end of the semester when Tara returns back to school. At school, Tara’s roommates grow concerned about her mental and physical health because they notice she has been acting differently since coming back from vacation. They encourage her to see a doctor and a therapist but she refuses their help until it’s too late…
After completing her finals, Tara goes home for Christmas. Shawn’s abuse continues and he forces Tara to accompany him to the grocery store in order to embarrass her in front of Charles. Back at school, Tara begins to visit a bishop from her church for weekly sessions. The bishop provides grant money that allows Tara to pay rent and receive dental care. In psychology class, she thinks about how she suffered because of her father’s untreated mental illness; ultimately, she diagnoses him as bipolar.
Tara is sure that she will have something in common with the other students at BYU. However, when she meets her roommates and classmates, she realizes that there are many differences between them. Tara feels like an outsider because of how different her upbringing was from those around her. She also struggles academically, which makes it harder for her to adjust to college life. Tara grows resentful toward her parents for not giving her a proper education and begins to realize how important an education is in order for people to learn about each other’s cultures and backgrounds so as not to be ignorant or hateful toward one another.
As Tara tries to catch up with her peers on both social and academic levels, she also struggles against the effects of poverty. This is because Tara’s father loses a worker at his scrapyard when she goes off to college. Therefore, she must work hard to support herself through school by working full-time jobs. The mounting economic pressure causes anxiety for Tara that manifests as physical illness, but she refuses treatment for it.
During her first few semesters at BYU, Tara struggles to reconcile her college life with her life at Buck’s Peak. Each time she returns home for a break between semesters, she is faced with the realization that she is straddling two opposing worlds. During her first summer at home, Tara becomes so overwhelmed by life at Buck’s Peak that she begins to question whether returning to BYU is actually feasible. She feels like an outsider in both places and finds herself constantly questioning where home truly lies.
In college, Tara learns about the violent history of the United States and is forced to examine her family’s whiteness. She realizes that if she doesn’t get an education, it can be dangerous. Tara also considers the consequences of Shawn’s racist worldview and wants to remain loyal to her family but finds herself questioning their survivalist lifestyle. Meanwhile in a psychology class, the narrator realizes that Gene probably suffers from bipolar disorder which prompts her to consider how his mental illness has affected her own life.
Tara is humiliated when Charles sees Shawn abuse her. This experience has a profound impact on Tara’s future relationships with people. Although Charles tries to be Tara’s ally, she feels unable to open up and accept his love. This leads Tara to become more secretive than ever before, which ultimately makes her feel even more isolated than before.
During her senior year, Tara hears about an accident that occurred at the junkyard. Her father is severely injured and may not survive. She rushes home to find Gene badly burned in a fire caused by an explosion. Despite his injuries, he wants to be treated at home rather than go to the hospital. As she sits by his bedside, listening to him breathe with difficulty, Tara wonders whether he will live or die from his wounds. However, after some time passes and Gene recovers well from the tinctures prepared for him by Tara’s mother (who is also a healer), it appears that Gene has recovered enough for them all to return back home happily together as a family again.
Gene is injured and Tara helps take care of him. While he’s recovering, Gene changes from a lecturer to an observer. This change allows the family to build a brighter future for themselves. Meanwhile, Shawn plans on marrying his girlfriend Emily, who has expressed that she worries about Shawn’s violent outbursts in the past.
Gene’s condition stabilizes, and Tara returns to BYU. She continues to do well in her classes, and one of her professors encourages her to apply for an exchange program at Cambridge University. Although she doubts that she will get accepted into the program, Tara applies anyway because it would be a great opportunity if she were selected. At home, Tara learns that Emily has given birth prematurely to a baby girl named Ellie. Gene’s miraculous recovery draws acclaim from many people who are interested in Faye’s herbal business; as a result, the family becomes more financially stable than they have been for some time.
Tara is accepted at King’s College in Cambridge for a semester abroad. While there, she studies history under Professor Jonathan Steinberg. He tells her that he sees something of Eliza Doolittle in Tara, the main character from “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw. Dr. Steinberg also praises Tara’s writing and encourages her to apply for graduate school at Cambridge University. At first, Tara doesn’t think she has what it takes to get into such an elite institution as Cambridge University; however, both Dr. Steinberg and Dr Kerry encourage her to be more confident about herself and feel like she belongs within the community of the university.
After graduating from BYU, Tara gets a prestigious scholarship. She is the only one in her family to get it and she feels very proud of that. However, she doesn’t want anyone to know about her background because they might think less of her for being raised by such dysfunctional parents. While everyone else is celebrating at graduation ceremonies, Tara struggles with feelings of guilt over how much better off she is than her parents are.
Tara starts her post-graduate studies at Trinity College, Cambridge. She’s overwhelmed by her feelings of imposter syndrome and has a difficult time socializing with her classmates. After befriending two female classmates, Tara undergoes a feminist awakening and realizes how gender greatly influenced the way she was raised. Tara returns home for the holidays to help out with her mother’s booming business.
While at home, Tara sees Emily come to their house with the disabled son. Shawn went on one of his emotional tirades and kicked Emily out in the coldest night of the year. With her new feminist consciousness, Tara begins to wonder how she should react to her brother’s misogynistic and abusive behavior. Audrey tells Tara that she was also abused by Shawn before leaving home. Tara confronts their mother about Shawn’s behavior, and soon discovers how long their mother has suffered from Gene’s abuse because of his paranoia
Gene’s dangerous and extremist lifestyle profoundly affects the lives of each member of his family. However, Gene himself is also affected by his own beliefs—he becomes deformed and disabled because he refuses to seek proper medical care. During his recovery process, Tara refers to Gene’s accident as a “blessing in disguise.” For the first time in his life, Gene is forced to listen and accept being in a non-authoritative position.
Tara is hopeful that her father’s accident will repair the family dynamic. However, things do not turn out this way. Shawn marries his girlfriend Emily and Tara worries for their wellbeing. This causes Tara to feel anxious and powerless—she doesn’t want to rock the boat. So, she focuses on school where she is rewarded for her hard work.
Tara is accepted into a study abroad program at Cambridge. She feels like an imposter because she’s not used to being in an academic environment and she doesn’t feel as smart as her peers. The professor notices that Tara has self-esteem issues, so he compares her to Eliza Doolittle from Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Just like the character Eliza, Tara defies traditional notions of beauty and femininity. Professor Steinberg encourages Tara to embrace her background rather than trying to fit in with everyone else at Cambridge University, because it will help her grow into herself better than if she were trying too hard to fit in there without embracing who she really is.
Tara is successful during her exchange program, and the professor encourages her to apply for graduate school. Tara applies to the prestigious Gates Cambridge scholarship, but she still feels like she doesn’t deserve such accomplishments. When she’s awarded the scholarship, Tara decides not to tell anyone about it because of how embarrassed she is of where she comes from. She struggles with balancing her educational world with that of her family.
While Tara is studying at Cambridge, she learns about the feminist movement. This historical understanding causes her to think back on how she was raised and how women were treated in her family and community. Her father consistently told her that “a woman’s place is in the home” and conditioned Tara to believe that women are second-class citizens. When Tara returns home for vacation, she finds out that Shawn treats his wife Emily horribly, which bothers Tara a lot because of what it says about Shawn’s attitude towards women. However, when Tara tries to talk with other female members of her family (namely Faye and Audrey) about this issue they don’t support her or help defend Emily against Shawn’s poor treatment of his wife. Although Tara feels like it’s up to her as a woman who knows better than most people what kind of relationship should exist between men and their wives, she worries that if she confronts Shawn he might hurt or even kill her since he has been violent before with other people in the town where they live.
Growing Into Adulthood
Summary Tara must come up with an idea for her PhD research. After thinking about it, she decides to look into Mormonism as a religious movement. That research proves to be exciting and helps her fit in socially at Cambridge University. Although Tara’s last trip home was unpleasant, she feels the need to go back again for Christmas because of Shawn’s behavior toward Audrey.
Tara is frightened by Shawn’s threats and decides to tell her parents about his abusive behavior. However, Gene doesn’t believe Tara and insists that she needs proof of the abuse. Fearing for her safety, Tara avoids seeing Shawn while at home. But he finds her anyway and drops a bloody pocket knife in her hand.
Tara flees her home because she was deeply disturbed by Shawn’s actions. He killed his German Shepherd with a bloody knife. Tara realizes that this is the same knife he used to stab her brother, Gene, in the shoulder. Back at Cambridge, Tara receives a letter from Audrey about how Shawn has been saved and absolved of his sins for murdering their family members. Now that they know it was all Satan’s fault, not theirs, they’re ready to forgive him and welcome him back into the family again. Because of this letter and what happened earlier in their relationship (Tara being locked up in an asylum), Tara knows that she can’t go back to them regardless if they want her or not anymore because there are too many bad memories for everyone involved.
Tara, a student at Harvard, is excited about the new classes and activities she’ll be taking on. She also begins writing her dissertation. One day Tara finds out that her parents are coming to visit in order to try and convert her back into their religion. Her parents travel to New York and touch the windmill as they pray for Tara’s salvation. They feel nothing but Gene feels overcome with religious fervor.
Tara realizes that her decision to not convert will lead to being disowned. She tries to reconcile with her parents by taking them on a detour, but they remain focused on their mission. Tara is given oil, which she refuses. Her parents leave in a rush and say it’s better for them to sleep outside than with the devil. As time passes, Tara experiences flashbacks related to this experience.
Tara, who was at odds with her father’s efforts to convert her, begins having nightmares. She also stops working on her thesis and regrets not listening to him. Tara decides to go home in an attempt to reconcile with her parents but when she gets there, she finds a letter from her mother that reveals Faye shares Gene’s religious beliefs. This is a confirmation of what Tara had suspected all along and it makes it clear that the relationship between them cannot be repaired so Tara leaves Buck’s Peak in anger.
Tara started a fellowship at Harvard but realized she had been led far from home. She was having physical, psychological and intellectual problems because of this situation. At school, she realized that her nervous breakdown was getting worse, and may have to drop out of the program if things didn’t improve soon. Her brother supported her in an effort to help turn her life around, which eventually happened when Tara passed her dissertation defense exams with flying colors and gained self-confidence as a result.
Tara is pulled to return home again. She attempts to reconcile with Faye, but Faye refuses and says that it’s wrong for a wife to meet someone behind her husband’s back. Tara meets her family at the funeral of her grandmother, who has passed away. At the funeral she sees all of her estranged siblings and their families, causing Tara to reflect on how much things have changed since she left Buck’s Peak.
Tara visits her hometown annually, despite the disapproval of her family. She recognizes that she can be a good person and have different ideas from them. Tara also credits her education for making it possible to become who she is today.
Tara is trying to reconcile her career and personal life. She proposes a thesis topic about Mormonism, which will help her do that. The purpose of the research is so she can feel closer to her family, but it’s not working out as planned because Shawn’s behavior has become increasingly violent. When Tara realizes he dropped the bloody knife in her hand, she realized he was a sadist.
The brutal slaying of Shawn’s dog is Tara’s last straw. She can’t be silent about his violent behavior anymore, but she runs into trouble when she confronts her parents with the news. Her father and mother are trying to manipulate her by questioning what she saw and heard. They’re denying that there was any violence at all, which makes Tara feel hopeless. However, Audrey is still on her side, so they try again to convince their parents together.
Tara’s optimism is short-lived. She receives news from Audrey that Shawn has been saved and Tara is the guilty one, which means her parents’ religious extremism has weaponized against them. Gene and Faye insist that Mormonism will save Tara from the devil and their surprise visit to Harvard demonstrates how they fail to respect Tara’s personal space. When Gene and Faye are unable to successfully reconvert Tara, she develops debilitating anxiety attacks, night terrors, depression, and nearly sabotages her completion of a PhD program in Cambridge.
Tara eventually finds her place in the world, but she still feels like she’s being pulled back to Buck’s Peak. Tara knows that her parents don’t want anything to do with her and that they’re unhappy with Gene for taking care of her, but it’s hard for Tara to believe that there is no way to reconcile things between them. So when Tara tries to talk to Faye about their relationship, she hopes that they can come together as a family again. However, when Faye rejects Tara completely, it becomes clear that there is no way for them all to be happy anymore.
In the memoir’s closing pages, the audience begins to understand what Westover means by being educated. For Tara, education is not just knowledge acquired from books or articles; it’s also learning about herself and using her academic resources to explore her own identity. Ultimately, writing this book was a way for Tara to reclaim her life—a process that included both horrors and victories.