Everything I Never Told You

Marilyn Lee Character Analysis

Marilyn is the daughter of Doris Walker and was born and raised in Virginia. Growing up, Marilyn is disdainful of her mother’s perfect housewife performance and her vocation as a home economics teacher. She dreams of becoming a doctor and she excels in her studies at Radcliffe (the women’s college within Harvard University), where she meets James. On discovering that she is pregnant with Nath, Marilyn and James quickly marry, and the family moves to Middlewood, Ohio, where James has been given a professorial position. After giving birth to Nath and Lydia, Marilyn becomes increasingly restless and dissatisfied with her life. When Marilyn learns that her neighbor Janet Wolff is a doctor, Marilyn abandons her family to finish her undergraduate degree in Toledo, with the intention of finally realizing her dream of attending medical school. However, in Toledo Marilyn discovers she is pregnant with Hannah, and she decides to return home. Marilyn ultimately projects her obsession with becoming a doctor onto Lydia, aggressively encouraging her daughter to enroll in advanced science courses. After Lydia’s death, Marilyn is forced to reckon with the fact that she did not understand her daughter as well as she thought.

Marilyn Lee Quotes in Everything I Never Told You

The Everything I Never Told You quotes below are all either spoken by Marilyn Lee or refer to Marilyn Lee. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Appearances vs. Disappearances Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of Everything I Never Told You published in 2015.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Upstairs, Marilyn opens her daughter's door and sees the bed unslept in: neat hospital corners still pleated beneath the comforter, pillow still fluffed and convex. Nothing seems out of place. Mustard-colored corduroys tangled on the floor, a single rainbow-striped sock. A row of science fair ribbons on

the wall, a postcard of Einstein. Lydia's duffel bag crumpled on the floor of the closet. Lydia's green book bag slouched against her desk. Lydia's bottle of Baby Soft atop the dresser, a sweet, powdery, loved-baby scent still in the air. But no Lydia.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee
Page Number: 1-2
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 2 Quotes

Newcomers to the school district assumed Mrs. Walker was a widow. Her mother herself never mentioned it. She still powdered her nose after cooking and before eating she still put on lipstick before coming downstairs to make breakfast. So they called it keeping house for a reason, Marilyn thought. Sometimes it did run away.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, Doris Walker
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:
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It was as if America herself was taking him in. It was too much luck. He feared the day the universe would notice he wasn't supposed to have her and take her away. Or that she might suddenly realize her mistake and disappear from his life as suddenly as she had entered.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, James Lee
Page Number: 45-46
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 3 Quotes

Marilyn, unaware that her youngest is listening so closely, so longingly, blots her eyes and replaces the diaries on the shelf and makes herself a promise. She will figure out what happened to Lydia. She will find out who is responsible. She will find out what went wrong.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee, Hannah Lee
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 4 Quotes

When Nath had been born, then Lydia, Marilyn had not informed her mother, had not even sent a photograph. What was there to say? She and James had never discussed what her mother had said about their marriage that last day: it's not right. She had not ever wanted to think of it again. So when James came home that night, she said simply, "My mother died." Then she turned back to the stove and added, "And the lawn needs mowing," and he understood: they would not talk about it.

Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:
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Three photo albums of Marilyn and not a single shot of her mother. As if

her mother had never been there. Was she sad? How could she miss her mother when her mother was nowhere to be found?

And then, in the kitchen, she discovered her mother's Betty Crocker cookbook, the spine cracking and mended, twice, with Scotch tape. On the first page of the cookie section, a deliberate line in the margin of the introduction, the kind she herself had made in college to mark an important

passage. It was no recipe. Always cookies in the cookie jar! the

paragraph read. Is there a happier symbol of a friendly house? That

was all. Her mother had felt the need to highlight this.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, Hannah Lee
Related Symbols: The Betty Crocker Cookbook
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 6 Quotes

The summer Lydia fell in the lake, the summer Marilyn went missing: all of them had tried to forget it. They did not talk about it; they never mentioned it. But it lingered, like a bad smell. It had suffused them so deeply it could never

wash out.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee
Related Symbols: Water/Swimming/the Lake
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:
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Up there––eighty-five miles high, ninety, ninety-five, the counter said––everything on earth would be invisible. Mothers who disappeared, fathers who didn't love you, kids who mocked you––everything would shrink to pinpoints and vanish. Up there: nothing but stars.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Nath Lee
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:
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NaOH became Nath, his small face wide-eyed and reproachful. One morning, consulting the periodic table, instead of helium she thought He and James's face floated up in her mind. Other days, the messages were more subtle: a typo in the textbook––"the common acids, egg. nitric, acetic . . ."—left her in tears, thinking of hard-boiled, sunnyside up, scrambled.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Nath Lee
Related Symbols: Eggs
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:
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She followed him all the way to the lake and to the end of the little pier. The houses on the other side of the water looked like dollhouses, tiny and scaled-down and perfect. Inside, mothers were boiling eggs or baking cakes or making pot roasts, or maybe fathers were poking the coals in the barbecue,

turning the hot dogs with a fork so that the grill made perfect black lines all over. Those mothers had never gone far away and left their children behind. Those fathers had never slapped their children or kicked over the television or laughed at them.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Nath Lee
Related Symbols: Water/Swimming/the Lake, Eggs
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 10 Quotes

"I am disappointed." Marilyn's head snaps up. "l thought you were different." What she means is: I thought you were better than other men. I thought you wanted better than that. But James, still thinking of Marilyn's mother, hears something else.

"You got tired of different, didn't you?" he says. "I'm too different. Your mother knew it right away. You think it's such a good thing, standing out. But look at you. Just look at you."

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee (speaker), James Lee (speaker), Doris Walker
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:
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“I didn't care. I knew what I wanted. I was going to be a doctor." She glares at James, as if he has contradicted her. “Then—fortunately—l came to my senses. I stopped trying to be different. I did just what all the other girls were

doing. I got married. I gave all that up." A thick bitterness coats her tongue. "Do what everyone else is doing. That's all you ever said to Lydia. Make friends. Fit in. But I didn't want her to be just like everyone else." The rims of her eyes ignite. "I wanted her to be exceptional."

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee (speaker), Lydia Lee, James Lee
Related Symbols: Doctors
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:
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You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing. Children who no longer needed you. A husband who no longer wanted you. Nothing left but you, alone, and empty space.

Related Characters: Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Doris Walker
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 11 Quotes

That long-ago day, sitting in this very spot on the dock, she had already begun to feel it: how hard it would be to inherit their parents' dreams. How suffocating to be so loved. She had felt Nath's hands on her shoulders and been almost grateful to fall forward, to let herself sink… Don't let me sink, she had thought as she reached for his hand, and he had promised not to when he took it. This moment, Lydia thought. This is where it all went wrong.

Related Characters: Lydia Lee, Marilyn Lee, James Lee, Nath Lee
Related Symbols: Water/Swimming/the Lake
Page Number: 273-274
Explanation and Analysis:
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Marilyn Lee Character Timeline in Everything I Never Told You

The timeline below shows where the character Marilyn Lee appears in Everything I Never Told You. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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...3, 1977 and, at 6:30 am, Lydia has not shown up for breakfast. Lydia’s mother Marilyn has marked Lydia’s physics homework and placed it next to her bowl of cereal; Marilyn’s... (full context)
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...now 7:30 in the morning and Hannah asks if they should still go to school. Marilyn instructs Nath to drive them there, and she assures her children that she will figure... (full context)
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Marilyn calls the secretary at Lydia’s high school to ask if Lydia is there. Though she... (full context)
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Marilyn searches the house and thinks of a girl from her school who, when she was... (full context)
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...saw a photo of James’ family on his desk, she commented on the fact that Marilyn was not Chinese. James was disappointed—everyone else pointed this out, but he thought Louisa would... (full context)
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...is the last second of “ignorant calm” before much greater problems arise. At that moment, Marilyn calls and asks James to come home. (full context)
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...girls come home of their own accord within 24 hours. Suddenly, Officer Fiske remembers that Marilyn went missing 11 years ago and asks James to confirm if this is correct. James,... (full context)
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...if she doesn’t return by tomorrow, and that he is sure everything will be fine. Marilyn insists that Lydia would not have run away of her own accord, and asks worriedly... (full context)
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The police leave, after instructing James and Marilyn to write a list of Lydia’s friends who might be able to help them discover... (full context)
Chapter 2
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The narrator claims that everything began with Lydia’s parents and their own parents before them. Marilyn herself had once disappeared and she had always wanted to “stand out,” whereas James wanted... (full context)
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In high school, Marilyn had asked her principal if she could take shop instead of home economics. Home ec... (full context)
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Doris grew up eighty miles from Charlottesville and has never left her hometown. When Marilyn is admitted to Radcliffe, Doris tells her daughter how proud she is and assures her... (full context)
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Marilyn sits in the lecture theatre of a popular new course called “The Cowboy in American... (full context)
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After the lecture, Marilyn goes to James’ office hours and nervously introduces herself. She explains that she is pre-med,... (full context)
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At the end of the second lecture, James asks to speak with Marilyn. He reminds her that he is her teacher, and that it would therefore be inappropriate... (full context)
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...has no friends and he feels like an imposter. This changes, however, when he meets Marilyn. On the first afternoon they spend together in bed at his apartment, he feels that... (full context)
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At Thanksgiving, Marilyn decides not to go home. She claims that it’s too far, but, in fact, she... (full context)
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...other Ivy League schools, he feels confident that he will be hired at Harvard. Meanwhile, Marilyn makes plans to attend medical school, calculating how far each university will be from James... (full context)
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Marilyn phones Doris and tells her that she and James are getting married. She explains that... (full context)
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On the day of the wedding, Doris takes Marilyn aside to “touch up [her] lipstick.” Doris is already upset that Marilyn is wearing a... (full context)
Chapter 3
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On the day of Lydia’s funeral, Marilyn thinks of how she would have wanted the last moment she saw her daughter to... (full context)
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...been closed for Lydia’s funeral, and many of her classmates are in attendance. James and Marilyn barely recognize Karen Adler or Lydia’s other “friends,” as it has been years since they... (full context)
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...with Lydia on Monday night. Their conversation is interrupted, however, by the approach of James, Marilyn, and Janet. James hisses at his son, asking why he is “picking a fight” at... (full context)
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James angrily tells Nath that he is driving Marilyn and Hannah home, and that when Nath has calmed down he should walk. Secretly, James... (full context)
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Nath walks home and immediately goes up to his bedroom, purposefully avoiding his family. Marilyn and Hannah are also in their rooms. After the funeral, James is tempted to lie... (full context)
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...him straight into her bedroom. James notes that everything about her body is “different” than Marilyn’s. After they have sex, James falls into a deep sleep for the first time since... (full context)
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The objects in Lydia’s room remind Marilyn of who she hoped Lydia would be as an adult. Lydia had wanted to be... (full context)
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...mind. She wraps her arms around herself, pretending that she is hugging her mother. Meanwhile, Marilyn stands in Lydia’s room, promising herself that she will find out what happened to Lydia... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...is five and Hannah is not yet born, Middlewood College has a Christmas party that Marilyn is reluctant to attend. For the first time, both of her children are at school;... (full context)
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James is not keen on the idea of Marilyn working for Tom; he thinks it will make it seem as if he is not... (full context)
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Marilyn finds many photographs of herself as a child, but none of her mother. There is... (full context)
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The next morning, Marilyn calls a company that will remove the rest of Doris’ belongings. Marilyn wonders where all... (full context)
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...Middlewood, James is unable to cook eggs properly for the children, who constantly ask when Marilyn is coming home. James takes Nath to the Y, leaving Lydia—who hasn’t yet learned to... (full context)
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...comfort Nath but feels that telling him “it gets better” would be a lie. When Marilyn comes home, James dismissively tells her that Nath was teased by kids at the pool... (full context)
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Marilyn gets in the car and starts driving away, telling herself she needs to “clear her... (full context)
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The next night, Marilyn concocts an elaborate plan. She will take her mother’s savings and, after Doris’ house sells,... (full context)
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That night, Marilyn tries to “memorize” James’ body as they have sex. James can tell something is wrong,... (full context)
Chapter 5
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During Hannah’s life, the Lees have never discussed Marilyn’s disappearance, and thus Hannah has no idea that it happened. After Lydia’s death, Hannah feels... (full context)
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...the door. Hannah repeats “I’m sorry I’m sorry” in her head, but says nothing aloud. Marilyn insists that Lydia would not have left on her own accord and that “some nutcase”... (full context)
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...Lydia was lonely, and cautiously mentions that she did spend a lot of time alone. Marilyn adds that Lydia was hard-working and busy with schoolwork. When Fiske asks if Lydia was... (full context)
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Inside, Marilyn is furious at James for dismissing her suggestion that a stranger was involved in Lydia’s... (full context)
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...and Hannah head to the lake. Meanwhile, James circles the lake in his car, replaying Marilyn’s words in his mind and feeling a sense of responsibility for Lydia’s unhappiness and death.... (full context)
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Marilyn cradles Lydia’s book bag, inhaling the “precious” smell of school. Suddenly, Marilyn notices that inside... (full context)
Chapter 6
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The summer that Marilyn disappears is the same summer that Lydia falls into the lake. The Lee family never... (full context)
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When James and Marilyn married, they made a pact to “forget about the past.” Now that Marilyn is gone,... (full context)
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...waves to James and says she hasn’t seen him in a while. She asks after Marilyn, and James mentions that she is gone “indefinitely.” Inside, Nath asks what indefinitely means, and... (full context)
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Lydia, meanwhile, is plagued by torturous nightmares. The only reminder of Marilyn in the house is the Betty Crocker cookbook, which Lydia reads “with the adoration of... (full context)
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In Toledo, Marilyn is studying in preparation for her Organic Chemistry midterm. To her surprise, the other students... (full context)
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Marilyn feels a great sense of possibility in this moment, and she tries to dismiss thoughts... (full context)
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The rest of Marilyn’s time at the hospital passes in a blur. Someone asks for her husband’s number, and... (full context)
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...the children can plainly see her in front of them. Both the children stare at Marilyn, weeping silently. Marilyn asks them if they have been good. Upon finding out that her... (full context)
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However, Nath was mistaken about the food. Marilyn refuses to cook, buying only pre-prepared food. At the same time, she starts grilling Lydia... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...by incidents of racism, his despair only mitigated by the sight of Lydia’s blue eyes. Marilyn still refuses to cook a meal from scratch, but she delights in every opportunity to... (full context)
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Every evening at dinner James and Marilyn talk to Lydia at length about social and academic pursuits, before briefly turning Nath to... (full context)
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...She is failing physics and has only just scraped a passing grade in biology. Meanwhile, Marilyn boasts to Janet that Lydia is a “genius” and continues to plan ways for Lydia... (full context)
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...social invitation throughout her childhood and teenage years, desperate to come straight home and see Marilyn. Throughout this time, Nath had been her only friend at school, saving her a seat... (full context)
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...enters, puts a hand on his son’s shoulder and let’s out a strained “Not bad.” Marilyn is more enthusiastic, kissing her son’s cheek. Lydia watches from the top of the stairs,... (full context)
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At dinner, Marilyn interrogates Lydia, asking how she will feel if she is unable to find a job... (full context)
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Lydia dreads receiving her mother’s Christmas gift. Usually, Marilyn gives Lydia books that she really just wants for herself and then proceeds to take... (full context)
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Lydia works hard, and at the end of January Marilyn checks in to see how physics is going. Lydia reports that things are much better,... (full context)
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Marilyn tells James to leave Lydia alone, and he replies that he’s “not the one nagging... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...to his office in the morning and spends the afternoons at Louisa’s apartment. He and Marilyn are barely speaking. One evening, he gets home to see Nath holding the refrigerator door... (full context)
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...James sees it is July 3rd; this used to be a happy date, the day Marilyn returned home. Now it signifies that it has been two months since Lydia disappeared. James... (full context)
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When James tells Marilyn about Fiske’s call, she replies that the police can’t close the case when “whoever did... (full context)
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...kind of girl I should have married.” Silently, Louisa convinces herself that James will leave Marilyn for her. (full context)
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Back home, Marilyn tells Nath and Hannah that the police have ruled Lydia’s death a suicide. Nath calls... (full context)
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Back in the present, Marilyn frets over James’ angry words. When she told James about Doris’ disapproval on their wedding... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...is smoke and talk. Lydia tells Jack all about the pressures her parents place on her—Marilyn’s obsession with ensuring that she becomes a doctor, and James’ constant badgering about social activities.... (full context)
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...at home, Lydia goes up to her room and puts on a record, but then Marilyn comes in and tells her she shouldn’t listen to music before her homework is finished.... (full context)
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...on her birthday. James promises to give Lydia her “first” driving lesson after school, and Marilyn says they’ll have cake and presents in the evening. Lydia silently thinks that in only... (full context)
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Back home, Marilyn and Hannah prepare to surprise Lydia with an elaborate cake in the shape of a... (full context)
Chapter 10
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After Marilyn’s visit to Louisa’s apartment, James gets dressed in a hurry. He returns to find the... (full context)
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James mocks Marilyn for wanting to be different when she doesn’t know what it’s really like to be... (full context)
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...Nath grabs his car keys and, in spite of Hannah’s protests, drives away too. Upstairs, Marilyn sits in Lydia’s room and thinks of all the years Doris spent alone in her... (full context)
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...is 15 miles from Toledo. He reflects that it is significant that both he and Marilyn chose the same place to run away. (full context)
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...way in which he has been branded as “different” from the moment he was born. Marilyn, on the other hand, sought out difference, and was able to confront it by “filling... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...the breakfast table, James tells her “all the boys will be after you now,” and Marilyn reminds her to come straight home after school because Nath will be back. That afternoon,... (full context)
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Lydia runs home and finds Marilyn sweeping the porch. Marilyn suggests that they study for Lydia’s exams together, but Lydia snaps... (full context)
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...family to make them happy and pretending to be someone she’s not. She will tell Marilyn “it’s not too late,” will apologize to Jack, and tell Nath that he doesn’t need... (full context)
Chapter 12
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James drives back home from Toledo, repeating to himself that “it is not too late.” Marilyn’s car is not in the driveway, and he fears that she has run away again.... (full context)
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When Marilyn comes downstairs, she finds James cradling Hannah, and remarks “you’re home.” James repeats that he... (full context)