During the movement therapy portion of her outpatient program, Julia’s instructor Ashley asks Julia how she’s feeling. Julia says she’s feeling “snacky.” The other members of Julia’s program—the emotional Erin, the beautiful Tasha, the self-harm-scarred Luis, and the acne-ridden Josh—feel sort of like friends to her, and the members of the group often make one another laugh in spite of their difficult circumstances.
In group therapy, Julia is able to meet other teens like herself who are struggling with mental health, circumstantial stress, and overwhelming pain. She’s able to feel less alone for the first time in a long time.
At lunch, a new kid named Antwon tries to get Julia to go on a date with him. She shows him her wrists and tells him jokingly that she’s not trying to date, as she just tried to kill herself less than a week ago. Antwon promises he can “take care of [her,]” but Julia shrugs him off, telling him she can take care of herself as she heads to her next therapy session.
There are even moments of levity during Julia’s time in her outpatient program, such as the wannabe-Romeo Antwon’s shameless attempts to get Julia to go out with him.
Every day of the outpatient program follows a careful schedule: movement therapy, homework time, lunch, group therapy, art therapy, individual therapy, and then a “closing circle.” In between sessions, Julia and her fellow patients discuss the things that landed them in the program, how long they’re each staying, and what their hopes are for when they’re finished. When Tasha asks Julia one day at lunch if she really wanted to die, Julia says “not really.”
Julia is confronting her feelings every day in therapy, and thinking seriously about what she did and why. She’s beginning to realize that she didn’t want to die—though it’s not exactly clear what she did want, and whether she was after attention, catharsis, or simply an escape from her circumstances.
That night, at dinner, Amá and Apá tell Julia that they think she should go to Mexico for a little while and spend some time at Mamá Jacinta’s house once she finishes her outpatient program. Julia protests, believing that being “shipp[ed] […] back to the motherland” won’t be helpful. Amá and Apá insist that Julia will be able to relax and recover in Mexico—she always loved going as a little girl, and would enjoy it even more now. Julia is forced to admit that she did used to love her trips to Mexico—still, she tells her parents she’s worried about missing so much school that she won’t be able to go to college. They insist she could simply go to community college, but that’s not good enough for Julia—she wants to get out and see the world.
As Julia recovers from her suicide attempt, she must reconfigure her plans for her immediate future. Going to college and getting out of Chicago has been her primary goal for so long that she hasn’t stopped to slow down and see how perhaps her ambition is stressing her beyond what she can handle. Her whole focus has been escape from her community. Yet what her mother proposes here is a reconnection to that community in the form of a trip to her grandmother’s town in Mexico.
On the last day of the program, Julia sits with Tasha on a break, and they both discuss how tired they are of the program. They discuss whether they’ll ever feel “normal” again, and Tasha admits that she doesn’t even know what it would look or feel like to be “normal.” When Julia tells Tasha that her parents are sending her to Mexico after the program’s over, Tasha’s eyes get wide, and she tells Julia how lucky she is to be able to “get the hell out of here.”
Julia is beginning to reconsider her life through other people’s eyes. To Julia, being sent to Mexico feels like a punishment or banishment—but to Tasha, the chance to get away and see a new place is the stuff of dreams.
On Monday, Julia returns to school. She tries to ignore her classmates’ stares and questions about where she’s been—some people know the truth, but “some ding-dongs” believe Julia’s lies that she’s been on a long backpacking trip through Europe. When Julia sees Juanga and Lorena, they both embrace her and tell her how happy they are to see her. They make her promise never to do something so stupid again, and to talk to them if things ever get bad again. Julia is grateful for their concern, but tired of “having an audience” for her every feeling.
Julia returns to school, still in many ways her old haughty, fiery self. She makes up lies to disguise the real reason for her absence—and to feel superior when she successfully fools people—but her friends know the truth, and want to comfort her. After a week in outpatient therapy, though, Julia is exhausted and ready to move on.
In a therapy session with Dr. Cooke, Dr. Cooke and asks Julia about the day she tried to kill herself. Julia says that everything just became too much—things had been bad enough after Olga’s death, but once Amá found Olga’s things and grounded Julia, Julia started to feel like a prisoner. Dr. Cooke asks why Julia didn’t tell the truth about the underwear, but Julia says that the truth might have “destroy[ed]” Amá and shattered her perfect image of Olga. Julia says that she feels her whole life is unfair, and she was born into the wrong family. She wants a normal life and a happy family—Dr. Cooke tells her she “deserve[s]” to have those things.
As Julia continues working with Dr. Cooke, she discovers some important things about herself, and vents feelings she’s been holding inside for far too long. Julia is sick of how things are at home—she feels trapped by the secrets she’s keeping, and by the pressures she’s facing as she struggles against Olga’s shadow. Dr. Cooke empathizes with Julia and validates her feelings, leaving Julia experiencing relief at the fact that her emotions don’t make her a bad person.
That night, Julia sneaks into Olga’s room again to look for more clues. She’s leaving for Mexico in the morning, and is looking for something before she leaves. She wonders if Olga has written down her laptop password somewhere, and begins going through notebooks and drawers. As she searches, she realizes that maybe Olga was the “sweet, boring” girl everyone knew her to be—that perhaps she just wants to find something incriminating about Olga so that she herself can feel like less of a “fuck-up.”
When Julia finds a piece of paper with random letters and numbers written on it and enters the text as the laptop’s password, it opens. There’s nothing much on Olga’s hard drive, but in her emails, Julia finds what she’s been looking for: clandestine, angry emails to a boyfriend. The emails date back to 2009, and as Julia reads through years and years of them, she realizes that Olga had a boyfriend—a married boyfriend—who continually promised Olga that he would leave his wife for her. Before Julia can finish all the emails, the connection to the neighbor’s internet cuts out, and Julia is left with a thousand unanswerable questions. She is even slightly mad at Olga for sealing up all her “bad” things and letting Julia get cast as the “malcriada” of the family for years.
Julia finds what she’s been looking for all along—definitive proof that even the sweet, “perfect” Olga had secrets, desires, and a double life. Julia wonders why her sister would never have shared these things with her—especially when doing so ultimately only made the both of them feel more guilt, shame, and loneliness over the years. But a reader can imagine that Olga also felt the pressure of being the “perfect” one, and couldn’t bring herself to fail to live up to those expectations and hurt her parents in the process.
Julia replaces the laptop under Olga’s bed, knowing there’s no use in taking it to Mamá Jacinta’s house in Los Ojos. She does, however, keep the piece of paper with Olga’s email username and password on it, in hopes of getting the chance to visit an internet café south of the border.
Julia has discovered a huge secret about her sister—but is not satiated, and still longs to find out even more.