Winter is over—Christmas and New Year’s have passed by in a sad, slow blur. No one mentioned Olga during the holidays, but her absence hovered around everyone. As spring arrives in Chicago, Julia and her classmates get ready for their annual outdoor field trip—a chance for city kids to get out of town and see some nature. This year, the class is going to the Illinois Beach State Park.
The fact that the holidays are glossed over in the narration suggests that they were too painful for Julia to process, let alone filter through narration.
On the day of the field trip, Julia wanders around with Lorena and Juanga—back from his love affair, and still inseparable from Lorena. While Lorena and Juanga gossip and laugh, Julia is distracted by thoughts of her sister, and Jazmyn’s words about her. When Juanga complains that he hates nature, Julia snaps out of her reverie and becomes incensed, accusing Juanga of having no “inner life.” When Juanga seems genuinely hurt, Julia apologizes, and the three of them walk a little farther before sitting down to eat their packed lunches.
Julia is lost in upsetting thoughts about her sister, and the puzzle she may never solve, when Juanga’s words pull her back to the present. Stressed and upset, she lashes out cruelly. Julia’s fiery, loudmouth personality is shown, here, to be exacerbated whenever she’s feeling personal frustration or pain.
As Juanga, Lorena, and Julia eat, Juanga begins talking about sex, and Lorena teases Julia for being a virgin. Julia is hurt that Lorena is making fun of her, and begins retaliating, but when Lorena accuses her of being too “stuck-up” to make a connection with a boy, Julia becomes truly enraged. She says that she is stuck-up, and proud of it; she’s better, she says, than the life she’s been dealt. Julia abandons her lunch and walks away from Juanga and Lorena, down to the shore.
In this passage, Julia reveals her true feelings about her friends, and about being stuck in high school in a place she hates: she feels she deserves (and is destined for) more. Julia’s anger at her situation is legitimate, the book suggests. And yet the way she responds to that unfairness is nonetheless destructive. It is tempting at first to read the book as one in which Julia is not her parent’s idea of a perfect Mexican daughter, but is still “perfect in her own way.” But the book seems to have a more complicated message. It never portrays Julia as perfect, and seems to argue that there is no such perfection. All of the characters are imperfect, all of them make bad decisions. Much of Julia’s growth will come from learning that there is no perfect that she must try to be, while much of Amá’s growth will be about the same thing.
Julia sits alone for a while, and then a classmate named Pasqual approaches her and begins asking her about Olga. His questions become more and more invasive, and though Julia asks him to leave her alone, he tells her she shouldn’t hate herself so much—everyone, he says, is messed up. Julia says she doesn’t know what Pasqual is talking about, but Pasqual insists she does before walking away.
Pasqual’s appearance in this scene is an odd one—Julia never states how she knows him, and he doesn’t show up again throughout the novel. This lends his appearance a mystical quality, making it seem as if he’s speaking aloud a truth about Julia she won’t allow her innermost self to verbalize or even understand.
Julia sits down and pulls out Camus’s The Stranger. She gets lost in the book until Mr. Ingman approaches her and asks her about what she’s reading. When she reveals the book is teaching her a lot about “existential despair,” Mr. Ingman asks her once again if she’s okay—Julia admits she doesn’t know what it would be like to feel “okay” or “normal.” Mr. Ingman suggests she talk to someone—maybe a professional—but Julia says she’s fine. Mr. Ingman asks Julia gently not to let him down, and she promises him she won’t.
Things are so bad for Julia that even a difficult, existential book like The Stranger offers her a sense of escape—though at the end of the Stranger, the isolated narrator greets his coming execution with gladness, which perhaps also foreshadows Julia’s coming suicide attempt. Mr. Ingman continues to try and be invested in Julia’s life and well-being—and she continues keeping him at arm’s length. She won’t connect to anyone.