Audrey Westover: Why She’s Estranged From Tara

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Educated" by Tara Westover. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Who is Audrey Westover? What is Audrey’s relationship with her sister Tara like? Are they still in contact?

Audrey Westover is the fictional name Tara Westover gives to her only sister in the memoir Educated.

We’ll cover parts of Educated that demonstrate the complicated relationship between Audrey Westover and the author. We’ll also look at why they’re no longer in contact.

Audrey Westover, Tara, and Their Brother Shawn

Audrey and Tara’s brother, Shawn, had a history of abusing women. By the second half of the memoir, Shawn is married to Emily.

One night while Tara was home from college, Emily came running to the home of the Westover parents, Gene and Faye, crying and shaking with terror. Shawn had gotten angry with Emily for bringing home the wrong crackers for their son and violently thrown her out of the trailer in the dead of winter. 

Yet Tara’s parents continued to do nothing about Shawn’s disturbing behavior, even when it put their grandson and daughter-in-law at clear risk.

Audrey Westover’s Story

In speaking about this incident with her sister Audrey, Tara learned that she, too, had been abused by Shawn. Being her older sister, Audrey had experienced all of it first, before Tara did.

Audrey would later recount to Tara via email that she never believed their mother would intervene to stop him and protect her daughters. But she was determined to do something about it now, before the situation escalated any further. Tara was afraid to reveal the abuse to her parents out of fear that they already knew and had chosen to do nothing about it.

The day after the sisters’ email exchange, Audrey Westover confronted Faye about Shawn. Later that evening, Faye got in touch with Tara online to discuss the matter further. Faye confessed to having looked the other way at what her son was doing to her daughters. She had wanted to believe that Shawn was irrational and not in control of his actions and, therefore, not responsible for them. Faye acknowledged that she should have protected Tara and Audrey.

It seemed like they had reached a breakthrough. But Faye’s support and understanding would sadly prove to be illusory.

When Tara returned to Buck’s Peak for Grandma-down-the-hill’s funeral, Audrey told Tara that nothing had changed. No one had taken any action at all.

Shawn’s Threat Toward Audrey Westover

One night when they were alone, Shawn confronted Tara about her conversations with Audrey. Although Tara denied having spoken to her, Shawn once again revealed his malevolent streak. He called Audrey “a lying piece of shit” and said that he would be willing to murder her for her treachery (Shawn was often seen brandishing firearms), but he “didn’t want to waste a good bullet on a worthless bitch.”

That same night, Tara decided to reveal everything to her parents. Her father, Gene, was outraged—at Tara. He demanded “proof” of the violent acts that Tara told him about. Tara insisted that he didn’t need proof, that the truth was plain and obvious and had been right in front of his face for years.

Faye, meanwhile, sat by completely silent, failing to rise in defense of Tara’s claims.

Audrey Recants

Back at school, Tara tried to shut out the awful events that had recently transpired on Buck’s Peak. But she couldn’t completely escape.

Shawn began sending her threatening emails and even called her long-distance one evening to openly muse about whether he should hire an assassin to murder Tara or do the deed himself. Once again, her parents downplayed the significance of what Shawn said, saying that he was only joking or didn’t really mean it.

Eventually, Shawn stopped calling her. He finally wrote her a letter claiming that he never wanted to speak to her again, and warned her to stay away from his wife and daughter. Tara’s parents, even her mother, defended Shawn’s actions as entirely justified. To them, she’d hurled baseless accusations at her brother and caused him and his family endless emotional anguish. To them, she was the abuser. It was a total denial and inversion of reality.

In the end, this force of denial even swept up Audrey Westover, Tara’s erstwhile ally in the fight to bring the truth to light. The family was closing ranks—against their youngest daughter. Sure enough, Audrey likewise told Tara to stay away from her forever. Tara had lost her family.

Audrey Westover: Why She’s Estranged From Tara

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of "Educated" at Shortform. Learn the book's critical concepts in 20 minutes or less.

Here's what you'll find in our full Educated summary:

  • How Tara Westover was abused by her brother as a child
  • Why Tara's parents set up the children for failure
  • How Tara ultimately broke out of her parents' grasp and succeeded for herself

Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

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