It’s been a year since Olga’s death, and Julia admits that sometimes she still catches herself looking at the front door, waiting for Olga to walk in. Amá still cries often, but always in private, and Julia is afraid to talk to her mother about the things they’re both feeling. Julia has continued trying to find out more about Olga, contacting her college and The Continental several times, but she can’t get any information out of anyone—and she still can’t find the key that unlocks Olga’s room, so she has no access to Olga’s laptop.
Julia is at a true dead end. A year has passed since Olga’s death and Julia’s not any closer to uncovering anything substantial about who Olga really was or what her life was truly like. She’s haunted by the sense that there are still secrets to discover, and yet her grief over her sister’s loss seems to be growing sharper rather than duller as she learns more and more.
Julia has been having nightmares about Olga, and intense waking flashbacks to their shared childhood. She feels mired in grief—her only moments of joy come when she sees Connor. The two of them talk on the phone every single night, and though Julia knows Amá must be aware something’s up, her mother doesn’t speak English well enough to understand Julia’s phone conversations.
Julia’s state of mind is slowly but surely deteriorating. She can’t get Olga out of her head—even in dreams—and is becoming reliant on others to buoy her moods, given how sullen and haunted she herself has become. Connor, and the escape from her family and community that he provides, is her only source of joy. But the fact that her joy comes from cutting herself off from her community suggests this is not a tenable situation.
One wintry afternoon, Lorena insists on going sledding in the city with Julia and Juanga. Julia hasn’t hung out with the two of them very much lately, as they’ve been drinking more and more, but she’s excited to spend some time with them—even though she’s never been sledding in her life. The three of them take the train into the city and, unable to afford real sleds, buy some plastic mats from a hardware store. The three of them then climb to the top of a hill in a local park and push off together. They scream and laugh all the way down, and Julia feels true happiness as she lies in the snow at the bottom of the hill and listens to church bells ringing in the distance.
This brief scene with Juanga and Lorena is a respite from the near-constant anxiety and grief Julia fears. She’s still able to pull herself together and have fun with her friends—but as the novel progresses, it will become clear that even these small moments of joy aren’t enough for Julia.
Connor has asked to visit Julia in her neighborhood, but she’s embarrassed to bring him around her parents’ roach-infested apartment, so she deflects his inquiries. Instead, she volunteers to meet up with him in the city more and more often. One afternoon, Connor takes Julia to a thrift store, and leads her up and down the aisles pointing out the crazy old clothes. Julia feels itchy and uncomfortable in the store—thrift-shopping has never been a hobby for her and her family, but rather a necessity. Julia grows more and more upset until finally she asks to leave. Outside the store, she tells Connor she’s just emotional because she’s getting her period, and Connor takes her to a fancy organic grocery store to pick out some special chocolate.
In spite of the joy her blossoming relationship with Connor brings her, Julia is forced to reckon with the fact that they come from completely different worlds. Connor is so wealthy that he’s able to act like a tourist in places like thrift shops—places where Julia and her family, out of necessity, shop for the items they need to scrape by. Julia doesn’t know what to do about her sadness, anxiety, and shame over the gulf between the two of them, but she certainly doesn’t want Connor to learn the truth about who she is and where she comes from. Her relationship with Connor forces her to hide the truth of her life.
That Saturday, Connor invites Julia to come to his parents’ house in Evanston. He tells her that they’ll be out of town, and the two of them will have the house all to themselves. Julia is stunned that Connor’s parents would leave him home alone—Amá and Apá would never let Julia or even Olga stay by themselves—but tells herself that “white people are different” and accepts his invitation. Julia is anxious as she wonders whether Connor expects the two of them to have sex on Saturday—she doesn’t know if she’s ready, or what it would even feel like to be.
Julia is experiencing a lot of firsts with Connor—and in spite of her overprotective mother’s strict rules, she wants to spread her wings and explore her sexuality. Julia doesn’t feel she can talk to her mother about sex, and because Olga is dead, she has few people to turn to discuss her feelings about this new part of her life.
Julia calls Lorena for some advice. Lorena offers Julia only one piece of wisdom: “shave [your] pussy.” Julia protests that women always have to pick and pluck at themselves for men, but Lorena insists that if Julia doesn’t follow her advice, Connor will be “grossed out” by her. Julia asks Lorena if sex will hurt; Lorena tells her it will, at first, but will “get better.”
Lorena is there to offer Julia advice, but the advice she gives is sort of bleak. Lorena clearly sees sex as an act of feminine submission, as something that is more aimed around pleasing a man. Julia, though, has no one else to turn to.
On Saturday, Julia lies to Amá about going downtown to an art gallery for a school project. Amá seems suspicious, and warns Julia that if she’s lying, she’ll find out—she always does. Julia hurries out of the house and stops at the pharmacy to buy condoms before boarding the first of three trains that will take her out to Evanston. When she arrives in the neighborhood, she’s stunned by the giant houses and tree-lined streets. She finally arrives at Connor’s house—which is as big as the entire apartment building Julia and her family live in.
As Julia travels to Evanston, she is unable any longer to ignore the glaring cultural and socioeconomic differences that separate her world from Connor’s. He comes from a place of wealth and privilege, and sees the world through that lens. Julia is more overwhelmed than envious, unable to believe that such a different world is a train ride away.
Connor answers the door and invites Julia in, telling her she smells like Mexican food. Julia is “mortified,” but laughs anyway. Connor shows her around the house, and Julia takes in their beautiful, clean, expertly decorated home with awe and anxiety. Through photographs, Connor shows Julia his mother, brother, and stepfather, and then the two of them order Thai food and watch YouTube videos.
Connor again displays insensitivity towards Julia, both in commenting on her “Mexican food” smell and touring her around his lavish home as if it’s no big deal. Still, Julia decides to stay with him, perhaps because she senses that his insensitivity is not willful (though one could also argue that it is his responsibility to work to see past his own privilege), and also perhaps because she wants to be a part of his world even at the expense of a measure of self-respect.
While they’re watching videos, Connor tells Julia how beautiful she is. He begins kissing her, and soon he is on top of her on the sofa. Julia still has her shoes on, and knows she needs to take them off—but she’s haunted by the memory of a time in grade school when a roach crawled out of her sneaker at a friend’s house. Julia tells Connor to slow down for a minute—he asks her if she’s a virgin, and she confirms that she is. He asks her if she’s “positive” that she’s ready to have sex, and she says she is. Connor pulls a condom from under a couch cushion, puts it on, and the two of them have sex. Julia is in pain for a little while, but soon she feels an “intense” kind of pleasure. When Connor finishes, Julia wraps her arms around him and buries her face in his shoulder.
Julia’s nervousness and discomfort in this chapter, this passage confirms, doesn’t stem necessarily from her hangups about sex or her uncertainty about Connor, but rather from her own shame and trauma regarding her working-class roots and the poverty she’s grown up in. Connor seems to be a genuinely nice guy, but as the book will make clear there is also a bit of laziness in his niceness. Also his readiness with that condom stashed in the cushion makes clear that he is more experienced than Julia. All of that aside, Julia’s first sexual experience is mostly a positive one.
When Julia gets back to her apartment, her parents aren’t home, and she’s grateful for the privacy. She’s starving, even though she and Connor ate lunch, and she rifles through the pantry and fridge searching for something to eat. There’s nothing in the house, though, but condiments and freezer-burned waffles. Julia pulls the waffle box out of the back of the fridge and hears something rattling in it—she pulls out a small bag which contains some of Amá’s jewelry, as well as the key to Olga’s room.
Even after having sex with Connor and eating Thai food, Julia remains ravenous—it’s notable that reaching an important milestone with Connor has done nothing to satiate her. The only thing that will is more information about Olga—the fact that she finds the keys hidden in the waffle box is symbolic of what she’s really been “hungry” for all along.
Late that night, after Amá and Apá are asleep, Julia gets up and opens the door to Olga’s room. She takes out the laptop, lingerie, and hotel key card and hides the underwear and key in her room—the laptop she stashes in her bag, so that she can carry it with her to school in case she gets to see Connor afterwards.
Julia doesn’t know how to open Olga’s laptop or what to do with her things, but decides they’ll be safer in her own room, where she can examine them whenever she wants.
The next afternoon, Julia comes home to find her mother crying on the sofa—the boxes containing Olga’s lingerie are open on the living room floor. Though Julia insists that the items aren’t hers, Amá refuses to believe her.
When confronted with Olga’s racy underwear and hotel key card, Julia says the items aren’t hers. But the fact that she doesn’t place the blame on Olga or reveal her sister’s secret indicates that Julia is unwilling to risk further devastating Amá. She is seeking the truth about her sister, but she senses that her mother would not want to know that truth. So even as she is punished, she protects her mother. Though one might also argue that she doesn’t blame Olga because she is sure that her mother would never believe her.
Julia is grounded big-time—Amá takes away her cell phone, and her only way of contacting Connor is by using a pay phone near school. Three weeks have passed since Amá found the lingerie, and Julia hasn’t seen Connor in all that time. Julia feels her life is falling apart. She complains to Connor on the phone almost daily, but one afternoon, as she airs her woes, he tells her that he doesn’t know how to help her—he cares for her, but being unable to see her or even talk to her most days is weighing on him. Julia tells Connor that she doesn’t know when she’ll be able to see him again, or when things will get better.
Julia is used to being punished all the time for things she’s done. But being punished for something she didn’t do is a whole new scenario—and with no one to turn to and no way of connecting to the one person who allowed her to forget her troubles, she sinks deeper and deeper into despair.
Julia enumerates all the things that are bad in her life—her dead sister, her “shitty neighborhood,” her overbearing parents. Connor says he wishes he could understand what she’s going through, but admits he doesn’t. He says Julia should speak to a therapist or counselor, but Julia says no one cares about what she has to say, and hangs up the phone.
Connor is genuinely unprepared to deal with the issues Julia’s facing—he’s never had to confront loss, poverty, or frustration with a cultural background. There are a number of ways to read Connor’s actions here. He’s clearly overwhelmed, out of his depth, and still concerned. His advice that Julia see a therapist is not bad advice! And yet at the same time there is always a suggestion in the book that Connor never pushes past his comfort zone. He says he can’t understand, and leaves it at that. For her part, Julia feels he’s giving up on her, and so she doesn’t hear the wisdom in his advice that she talk to a therapist. It’s hard to say who’s “right” in this scenario, which is one of the ways that the book is successful in showing the ways that cultural and experiential differences can lead to tension and misunderstanding between imperfect people.