One day while watching Penelope at a volleyball game, Junior marvels at how beautiful she is with her pale skin and her white uniform: “all white on white on white, like the most perfect kind of vanilla dessert cake you’ve ever seen.”
The color white, to Junior, is a symbol of hope and of impossibility—“like some mythical creature,” he says at one point. Here, Penelope’s whiteness becomes another symbol of Junior’s unattainable hopes.
Junior emails Rowdy to ask what he should do about being in love with a white girl, but Rowdy tells him to get a life: “I’m sick of Indian guys who treat white women like bowling trophies.”
Penelope’s role as an unattainable dream gives weight to Rowdy’s comment. Although Penelope has the overarching privilege of her whiteness, it’s still dehumanizing and objectifying for her personally when Junior to wants her just because of her color, or thinks of her as a symbol rather than a person.
Junior asks Gordy for advice, and Gordy Googles “in love with a white girl,” finding an article about how the media will focus on the plight of one beautiful white girl while ignoring the suffering of hundreds of other people. Gordy tells Junior this means “you’re just a racist asshole like everyone else.” Junior thinks that Gordy, in his own way, is just as tough as Rowdy.
Though rational, research-oriented Gordy is very different from hot-tempered Rowdy, the two of them are equally no-nonsense friends to Junior, and arrive at the same conclusion: Junior is placing Penelope on a pedestal. This is partly at least because of her color, which is one way the Indians who accuse him of being a “white-lover” are justified.