Kim calls the gas company and they send a repairman. He looks around the apartment with pity and says he'll do his best, but he can't promise anything. Fortunately, he is able to fix the stove. He very politely refuses Ma's attempt to tip him and tells her to buy something nice.
Note that the repairman doesn't make Ma and Kim feel ashamed for living the way they do. Ma's desire to tip him shows her trying to maintain her dignity and pride despite her miserable situation.
Matt drops out of high school to work full-time, while Kim begins taking freshman classes at Polytechnic University. Those classes end later in the day, so she sometimes comes across Vivian waiting for Matt when she gets to the factory. One day in the spring, Kim sees Vivian, surrounded by a group of Chinese boys doing their best to impress her. One is holding a potted plant for her. Vivian says hi to Kim on Kim's way in and as Kim approaches the door, Park runs into her on his way out. He's dressed strangely and seems disoriented. Vivian asks if he's okay, but Park keeps walking.
Kim follows and notes Matt's trajectory, and places his choices right next to her own. This continues to build on the idea that regardless of their attraction to each other, the two are on very different paths. With Vivian in the picture as well, it’s suggested that Kim and Matt will never be able to actually be together.
One of the boys steps in front of Park and tries to get him to speak. Kim puts herself between Park and the boy, insults him, and yells for Park to run. She runs with him but when she looks back, she sees Matt grab the boy and yank him around. The boys try to insist that they were just playing, but Matt knows otherwise. The boys scatter. Matt re-clips a lost barrette back into Kim's hair and Kim insists that Vivian tried to make the boys stop too. Matt picks up Vivian's discarded potted plant and leads her and Park away.
Kim's decision to actively defend Park and get him out of the situation is another way in which her growing American-ness shines through. Her choice to defend Vivian as well shows Kim beginning to sacrifice herself to make Matt happier, even if it means lessening her own chances of a romantic relationship with him.
Kim continues to tutor Curt for the upcoming SATs. One afternoon, she sits in the studio with him while he puts finishing touches on a sculpture. As he happily talks about finding a pair of cool boots in the dumpster, Kim tells him that being poor isn't actually fun. She notices his expensive jacket dragging on the floor and picks it up for him. He doesn't notice. Curt invites her to a party, which his parents are throwing to celebrate the fact that Curt hasn't flunked out—because of Kim. Kim promises to think about it.
Kim sees that for Curt, finding things in dumpsters is cool—when in reality, to someone like Kim who is actually poor, his actions just make him look like he has no idea what a working-class existence is like at all. The possibility of going to Curt's party suggests that Kim likes Curt (or wants to be popular like him) enough to lie to Ma, which she'd need to do to go.
Kim finds Annette at the theater and tells her about the party. Annette believes that Kim likes Curt, but frowns and asks why she never comes to her parties. Kim understands she's a difficult friend for Annette, but she still believes she can't reciprocate Annette's invitations. She promises to come see one of Annette's plays, and they devise a plan: Kim will tell Ma she's sleeping over at Annette's house. Ma is skeptical when Kim brings it up, but finally agrees.
While it's true that Annette probably wouldn't be all that interested in a sleepover at Kim's apartment, it's still possible that Kim is selling Annette a little short here. It's very likely that Annette would be happy to come for a meal and not be as embarrassed by Kim's poverty as Kim believes she'd be.
Several days later at the factory, Aunt Paula starts yelling that the inspectors are coming. She and Uncle Bob race around, cleaning up and ushering children into secret places. Kim ends up in a dark men's bathroom with Matt and three little kids. They huddle together, trying to avoid the open toilet. Kim comforts a little boy and one of the girls hisses that there's a roach in the sink. Matt leaps away and ends up right next to Kim. The boy crushes the roach, and Kim leans into Matt with relief. Suddenly, Kim hears Matt make a noise and opens her eyes to see the roach dangling in front of her, not totally dead. Kim screams in surprise. Uncle Bob yells for them to be quiet.
Though there's certainly an emotional and fearful tenor to the children being hidden from the inspectors, Paula and Bob's efficiency in hiding them all suggests that this is, to a degree, a normal part of factory life—essentially, they're not going to stop just because having to hide the kids is somewhat inconvenient. Again, this illustrates how the laws in place to protect children are actually ineffective at doing so, because those in charge know how to work around them.
Kim hears the inspectors pass by. Her heart pounds, both with the fear of being found out and because of her proximity to Matt. Finally, the door opens. The little kids tumble out. Kim moves to leave as well, but Matt pulls Kim close. Suddenly, they're kissing. Kim finally pulls away, thinking of Vivian, and Matt says as he leaves that he'll never reach Kim's heights. Kim feels shattered; she thinks that she's made Matt believe he's not good enough for her.
Matt and Kim’s kiss begins to bring their relationship to maturity, while his admission that he's not good enough shows them finally being truthful with each other about what's between them. Again, the novel conceptualizes this as a sacrifice and suggests that Kim and Matt are paying the price.
After this, Kim makes a point to be kind to Park and flirts openly with other boys at the factory. She reminds herself that despite the kiss, Matt has still chosen Vivian, not her. All of this is made worse by the fact that Kim genuinely likes Vivian. Finally, Kim confides in Annette, who insists that Kim is more in love with the idea of Matt than Matt himself. She does helpfully urge Kim to move on and forget.
Annette's wisdom is likely correct to some degree. It's worth keeping in mind that for Kim, Matt is more real than the boys she kisses at school because he's aware of her and shares her, poverty and she feels she wouldn't have to hide from him (as she does from Annette). This suggests they do actually know each other on a level that goes deeper than just “ideas.”
On the evening of Curt's party, Kim goes to Annette's house. She greets Mrs. Avery warmly and Annette lets Kim borrow a daringly short dress and a pair of pumps. She does Kim's makeup as well. Mrs. Avery drives them to Curt's apartment in the city, which has a doorman and real flowers in the elevator. When Curt answers the door, he seems shocked to see Kim dressed up. He tells the girls to leave their things in his parents' bedroom. Kim is very curious to see what a party is like. All the lights are out, loud music plays, and a disco ball spins in the living room. There's no sign of Curt's parents.
The absence of Curt's parents suggests that Curt may have bent the truth when he invited Kim to the party; remember he told her that his parents were throwing this party for him. Curt may know Kim better than her narration has let on thus far, as he seemingly knew she would never come if she knew no adults would be present. For Kim, this is one of the few times that she gets to feel like a real American teenager, which makes this a moment of coming of age in her new home.
Annette spots a friend from theater, so Kim takes Annette's purse to the bedroom. Kim flips on the light and screams when something moves in the bed. She realizes it's two classmates kissing and quickly leaves. She finds Annette, who makes her a gin and tonic, and the two dance to the music. As Kim spins, she feels like a real American teenager. After a few minutes, Curt leads Kim to his bedroom. A group of kids, including Sheryl and a boy Kim previously kissed, sit in a circle and pass a massive Chinese water pipe filled with marijuana around. Kim feels reckless and wants to try it.
Finding classmates kissing in the dark impresses upon Kim that this is certainly not an adult-sanctioned party, which also situates it firmly as a coming of age moment for Kim and something that helps her feel independent and American. Her decision to try marijuana suggests that she desperately wants to have these experiences that would allow her to feel more American—and she also just wants to finally fit in with her peers.
Though Kim has never smoked before, she's watched men in Hong Kong smoke and knows how. Curt calls her a natural and Kim takes several hits. She lies back and enjoys the feeling of the carpet on her head. The rest of the group dissipates, and Curt begins kissing Kim.
Beginning this romantic relationship with Curt shows Kim coming of age at school where her classmates can see, given how popular and prominent Curt is. She finally has an “in” to the dominant culture at school.
Uncle Bob begins spending less and less time at the factory, and Aunt Paula effectively takes over running the factory. One afternoon, Paula brings Kim an envelope containing her test scores. Kim insists she wants to wait to open them until Ma returns from the bathroom. Later, when Kim does open them, she can only find the list of possible scores. She remarks on this and hears Paula behind her, saying that that's ridiculous. Paula snatches the paper away, turns red, and spits that those are Kim's scores—she got the highest scores possible. Kim apologizes for making Paula jealous, though Paula insists she's just proud.
Paula likely understands that even if she were to force Kim to work even more at the factory, she'd continue to earn scores like this and do well in school. This moment then acts as a turning point in which Paula realizes that there's actually very little she can do to stop Kim practically. In turn, this suggests that she may turn to more emotional means to try and keep Ma and Kim under her thumb.