Julia feels as if the date of her quinceañera is hanging over her “like the blade of a guillotine.” She’s been forced to take waltz classes though she’s hopeless at dancing, and dreads the “bland food” and “odious music” which will be part of her celebration, as they’re hallmarks of all quinces. Julia won’t even be able to sneak in a book to distract herself, as she’ll be the center of attention. Julia has learned, through eavesdropping on her parents’ conversation, that they’re paying for the party with money from Olga’s savings and life insurance. Though Julia wishes they’d use that money to send her to college or find a better apartment, she knows any mention of these things would be fruitless.
Normally, a quinceañera would be a cause for excitement and celebration—but for the aloof, rebellious, and tradition-averse Julia, there’s absolutely nothing about the party to look forward to. She knows her parents are wasting their money on her—but is powerless to say anything that would convince them to cancel it, since she also knows that the party is more for Olga than it is for her. It is not just Julia who is disconnected from her family. Her family is also disconnected from her.
One Sunday morning, while Julia is helping Amá put together party favors, the doorbell rings. Julia opens the door and finds Lorena standing there—she apologizes for being a “bitch” to Julia, and says she hates not being able to talk to her best friend. Julia doesn’t accept Lorena’s apology so easily—she demands to know if Lorena really thinks she’s stuck up. Lorena says she doesn’t really think Julia is stuck-up—though she wishes she were less judgmental sometimes.
For all her pettiness in recent weeks, in this passage, Lorena shows that she does truly love Julia. She’s invested in Julia’s growth—she wants her friend to learn to be more open-minded and stop closing herself off from people and experiences.
Julia expresses jealousy over Lorena’s friendship with Juanga, but Lorena begs Julia to have some empathy—Juanga has a terrible home life, and his father often beats him up because of his sexuality. Julia, suddenly feeling badly, promises she’ll be nicer to Juanga. Lorena invites Julia out to go get some pizza, and Julia happily agrees to go.
Julia’s journey to become a more empathetic person is one of her main trajectories throughout the novel. Though she was jealous of Juanga, and judged him for his promiscuous and flamboyant ways, she sees now that she was wrong—Juanga has his own problems, and Julia needs to see things through other people’s eyes if she’s ever going to make any lasting friendships.
At a pizza parlor in a nicer neighborhood, Julia orders two slices for herself. When Lorena asks if she’s seriously going to eat them both, Julia admits that she would’ve ordered three if she didn’t think doing so would “embarrass” Lorena. After eating, Julia is still hungry, but she tries to tell her stomach to quiet down rather than ordering herself another. As she sits digesting her food, she feels a deep sadness creeping over her. Lorena asks her what’s wrong, and she admits that sometimes—actually, “like, all the time”—she hates her life. Lorena is shocked and seemingly angry, and urges Julia not to say such things. Julia begins to cry, and admits that she doesn’t even know if she’ll “make it to college.” She doesn’t feel anything makes sense, and the already painful parts of her life have been made worse by Olga’s death.
Julia is starving—which indicates symbolically that she’s in emotional turmoil. As she reveals the depths of her depression to Lorena, Lorena becomes concerned for her friend. Julia, though, has never spoken any of this out loud to anyone, and needs a sounding board if she’s going to keep her sanity. This passage makes it clear that Julia is in a state of deterioration—and that if she’s going to “make it to college,” she’s going to need to learn how to ask for help from the people who love her. While Lorena is a good friend, she also doesn’t know how to deal with Julia’s revelation of her depression, as is made clear when her response is to tell Julia not to talk in that way.
Lorena encourages Julia to remember that she’s almost out—she’s not going to have to live the way she’s currently living forever. Lorena begs Julia not to say “anything stupid like that” again, and Julia agrees. She then changes the subject, telling Lorena about her failed attempt to get Olga’s transcripts from the community college. She says it doesn’t make any sense that Olga never even earned an associate degree given how long she was taking classes, and is determined to find out what it is that “isn’t right” about the situation. Lorena suggests that Julia’s imagination is getting to her—she says that Olga probably did just live a normal, boring life. Still, Julia asks Lorena to get Jazmyn’s number through Juanga. Lorena agrees, though she says she doesn’t see the point in digging any deeper.
Though Julia at last opens up to Lorena, Lorena is not very receptive to Julia’s feelings—out of fear, she seems to want to deny the depths of Julia’s depression and push aside what she’s just heard. She also suggests Julia abandon her search for more information about Olga, perhaps believing that spending so much time thinking about her sister is what’s slowly driving Julia to the brink (which isn’t such a bad diagnosis, though it misses the deeper issues in Julia’s family that are driving Julia to be so obsessed with the search in the first place).
After taking Lorena home, Julia begins the walk back to her own apartment. On the way, though, a car full of men pulls up beside her, and a couple of them start shouting lewd things at her. Julia tries to ignore them, but their comments become more and more aggressive. As the men’s shouts get louder, Julia sees an elderly man walk out of an apartment just ahead. She makes eye contact with the man, who stops to ask her what’s wrong. Julia gestures at the car, and the old man begins shouting at the boys. The car speeds away, though the driver threatens to “find [Julia] again” as he hits the gas. The old man walks Julia all the way to her door, and makes the sign of the cross as he leaves her—Julia feels comforted.
Julia’s mother’s overbearing nature and strict rules start to make more sense in light of this passage—it’s clear that Julia’s working-class neighborhood is not the safest place, and the fear and helplessness she feels when confronted with yet more predatory men are acute and disorienting. Just as the book is nuanced in the way it dissects the idea of anyone being perfect, it is similarly nuanced in the way it handles people being wrong. Amá isn’t wrong to worry about Julia, men, and sex, but the controlling way she shows that worry has its own negative impacts.
On Monday, Juanga gives Julia the number for one of Jazmyn’s friends. Julia calls the girl, Maribel, and gets Jazmyn’s number from her. At home, Julia hides in her bedroom closet as she calls Jazmyn—when she gets the other girl on the line, she nervously introduces herself, and apologizes for resorting to getting her number from a friend. She asks Jazmyn to tell her more about what Olga said about being “in love” the last time Jazmyn ran into her. Jazmyn says the encounter was a long time ago, though, and she doesn’t remember much. Just as Julia hears the apartment door open, Jazmyn remembers that Olga said her new boyfriend had a “good job.” Julia thanks Jazmyn for her help and hurries off the phone, worried that her own life is “a stupid puzzle” she’ll never be able to figure out.
Though Julia pushes on and on in the face of dead end after dead end, she’s starting to doubt whether she’ll ever have an answer to the truth about Olga—or about herself. Julia is starting to consider that even if she does find out what Olga was hiding, bit by bit, she won’t actually understand anything more about the “puzzle” of her sister. This demonstrates that there’s a difference between learning information and understanding the truth—Julia is starting to realize that gathering facts about Olga won’t bring her any closer to the person she’s lost.