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Missoula

Jon Krakauer
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Plot Summary

Missoula

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2015

Plot Summary

Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction book Missoula (2015) explores the cultural, legal, and social ramifications of rape in the modern-day United States through the lens of a series of incidents involving the University of Montana football team and the town of Missoula where the college is located.

Krakauer recounts the evening that Beau Donaldson, a football player with the University of Montana Grizzlies, confesses to charges of raping Allison Huguet. Detective Guy Baker interrupts an office Christmas party to inform her; Donaldson and Huguet were old family friends, often described as being like brother and sister. Although they were old childhood friends, they had never dated or been involved sexually. Allison is relieved and emotional to hear the news.

Krakauer pulls back to explore Missoula and the importance of the football team to the town. The members of the football team, local superstars, are routinely allowed to get away with misbehavior that other citizens cannot. Allison attended a party at Beau’s house in 2010, and after consuming a large amount of alcohol, she falls asleep; when she wakes up, Beau is in the act of sexually assaulting her. Allison goes to the hospital and a rape kit is collected.



Allison struggles with whether to go to the police to publicly accuse Beau due to their long-term friendship. She attends a football game the next day and sees him on the sidelines, acting as if nothing has happened; she is convinced by her friend Keely Williams to confront him. Allison does so, and over the course of the next fifteen months waits to see any sign that Beau will take responsibility for what he’s done. Finally, Allison goes to the police, where Detective Baker is a sympathetic ear. He leads the investigation, securing a warrant to record Beau without his knowledge, Unaware that he is being recorded, Beau, eventually, admits to the rape.

Krakauer then contrasts Allison’s experience with the experiences of several other local girls who accused football players in Missoula of rape. The police in these cases did little to investigate the claims, dismissed the girls’ stories, and acted to protect the players. One of these women, Kaitlyn Kelly, is raped by Calvin Smith in her University of Montana dorm room. When the police do little to help her, she files a formal complaint with the University, which has adopted a more lenient rule of evidence in such matters. At the hearing, prosecutor Kirsten Pabst, who had declined to pursue charges against Smith, testifies on his behalf; Kelly is stunned that the woman in charge of prosecuting sex crimes would testify on behalf of her rapist. Ruling that it is “more likely than not” that the rape occurred, Calvin Smith is expelled.

The local press begins running stories detailing some of the sexual assaults that have apparently been ignored or actively covered up by local officials and college officials. This culminates in a blockbuster story accusing the star quarterback, Jordan Johnson, of raping a woman who is only identified by a pseudonym, Cecilia Washburn. Johnson denies the charges and, despite being found in violation of the student code of conduct, eventually evades expulsion or legal charges entirely.



Krakauer returns to Allison’s story, describing her struggles with the prosecutor assigned to Beau’s case, Shaun Donovan. Allison and her family feel that Donovan is being too gentle with Donaldson, and will not seek the maximum penalty for his crimes. As pressure from the national media and the federal government increases, the case is turned over to County Attorney Fred Van Valkenberg. Valkenberg successfully secures the maximum sentence for Beau: Thirty years, although twenty of the years are suspended and he will be eligible for parole in two and half years.

Pabst retires from the prosecutor’s office, goes into private practice, and takes on Johnson as a client. She attempts to have the charges against Johnson dismissed but fails. Pabst and other lawyers for Johnson launch a theatrical and aggressive defense, including making insinuations about Cecilia Washburn’s character and morals, and Johnson is found not guilty.

The Department of Justice concludes its investigation into the way Missoula handled rape cases,  issuing directives that the county hire independent investigators to handle rape cases. Van Valkenberg sues, claiming these directives are an overreach of authority, but fails and resigns as County Attorney. Kirsten Pabst runs for the office on a platform of being tougher on accused rapists—despite the fact that she worked very hard to defend accused rapists—and wins the election, becoming the new County Attorney.



Krakauer concludes by analyzing what went wrong in Missoula, arguing that a lack of education in the County Attorney’s office combined with the hero worship attitude towards star athletes created the environment that allowed rapists to get away with their crimes. He admits that he was inspired to work on the book when he realized how ignorant and uneducated he himself was on the subject.
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