After Olga’s funeral, Amá doesn’t leave her bed for nearly two weeks. She only gets up to go to the bathroom and eat stale pastries from the funeral. Her behavior begins to worry Julia—Amá is usually clean and put-together, no matter the circumstances. Apá, meanwhile, continues working all day every day, and comes home to sit silently on the sofa with a beer. He never communicates his feelings to Julia, and has barely even spoken to her since the funeral.
Julia’s parents are clearly taking Olga’s death terribly hard. Julia is almost jealous, as she wants them to show up for her—but their grief overwhelms everything, and leaves Julia feeling more alone than ever.
The Reyes’s roach-infested apartment on the south side of Chicago has fallen into particularly bad shape over the last couple of weeks, and there is hardly any food in the house. Julia tries to cook for herself, but can’t even make beans right—she’s never learned how to cook, out of fear of becoming “a submissive Mexican wife” who does nothing but clean and prepare meals.
Julia is constantly hungry—a symbol of her restlessness and ambition—but hasn’t learned to cook as a way of rebelling against her mother. Julia is trying to overcome the cycles and gender roles which permeate her community and family, but in the end, she’s really cheating herself out of a lot of experiences and a connection to her family and cultural traditions.
One afternoon, Julia peeks into her mother’s room and asks if she’s planning on eating or taking a shower. Amá yells at Julia for being “suddenly concerned with cleanliness,” remarking that Olga was always “the clean one.” Julia flatly states that Olga is gone before taking five dollars from her mother’s wallet and leaving the apartment. In addition to a ghost sister, she thinks, she has a ghost father and a ghost mother. At a nearby taco shop, Julia orders some food and eats ravenously, wolfing down three tacos and a large horchata in minutes.
Julia is lonely and restless, with no one to talk to or to comfort her. She’s angry at her parents for emotionally abandoning her, and is clearly ready for the grieving period to be over. Her strained interactions with her family often lead to her voraciously eating—a symbol of her thwarted desire for more than she is allowed to have.
When Julia arrives home, her mother is sitting in the kitchen sipping some tea, freshly showered. Julia is shocked when Amá—who always demands to know her whereabouts—doesn’t ask Julia where she’s been. Julia is even more shocked when her mother announces that Julia is going to have a quinceañera—a traditional party which marks the entry of fifteen-year-old Latina girls into womanhood. Julia is confused—she’s already nearly sixteen. When she brings this up as a way of protesting against the party, Amá replies that she is full of regret that she never got to give Olga a quincé—and isn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Julia insists she doesn’t want the party or any of the frivolous celebrations that come with it, but Amá’s will is solid—she tells Julia not to say a bad word against the idea, threatening to “break [her] teeth.”
Though Julia is off-put and even disgusted by the idea of a lavish, indulgent quince party, Amá insists on making one happen for Julia since she never could for Olga. Julia resents not only the wasteful party, but the fact that it’s not even being thrown out of love for her, and rather Amá’s lingering regrets about Olga. Julia is second-best to her sister, even after Olga’s death, and the constant reminder of this fact makes her feel hurt, angry, and unloved. This interaction points to the circular struggle between Julia and her parents: they want to make her be something she isn’t, which leads her to rebel.
Whenever Julia can’t sleep lately, she gets out of her own bed and goes to crawl into Olga’s, even though Amá has forbidden her from entering her sister’s room. Julia is comforted by Olga’s familiar scent, which lingers in the bedclothes. As she lies there, her thoughts swirl around in her head: she is afraid of not getting into college and being stuck in her working-class neighborhood forever. Julia tries to distract herself with a book, but even reading—her favorite activity—doesn’t work. Julia spies a picture of her and Olga on vacation in Mexico at their grandmother Mamá Jacinta’s house—they used to go together every summer. Julia studies the picture, wondering who her sister really was, and realizing that maybe she didn’t know her at all.
Julia does miss Olga, and is in the process of grieving: she just shows it differently. She regrets not having gotten to know Olga better or trying to be closer to her while she still had the chance. Julia is left with a ton of questions about who Olga was and what she wanted—they were close, this passage and the picture it describes shows, in their youth, but never really understood each other as young women.
Olga has always been the favorite, taking their mother’s side in arguments—of which there have always been many, because of Julia’s contrarian views and feisty personality. Stuck in a thought spiral about all the ways in which she’s failed to measure up to Olga, Julia turns over and tries to sleep—but as she lays her head on the pillow, she feels something poking her. She reaches into the pillow case and pulls out a note scrawled on a sticky note bearing the name of a prescription: the note says “I love you.” Julia’s mind begins racing. She knows that Olga hasn’t had a boyfriend since she dated a skinny, wimpy guy back in high school.
The discovery of the first piece of a larger puzzle about Olga sends Julia down a rabbit hole which will consume her over the course of the novel. She already has regrets about not knowing her sister better, and about failing to live up to Olga’s example. Finding dirt on Olga, then, is both a way for Julia to make herself feel better about her own failures, and to learn her sister’s private secrets—though what Julia will learn about herself in the process will be more important than the truth about Olga.
Julia gets out of bed and begins going through Olga’s closet. She finds old pictures and clothes stuffed in boxes—but in one box, finds a cache of sexy underwear. Julia is scandalized, and knows that if their mother ever found these things, she would “flip the hell out.” Julia begins searching for Olga’s laptop, and eventually finds it under the mattress. She becomes frustrated when she can’t guess Olga’s password, and goes back to looking through Olga’s things. In her sister’s dresser she finds a hotel key card from a hotel called The Continental. Angie, Julia knows, works at a hotel—but not The Continental. As she hears sounds of someone waking up, Julia flicks off the light, stashes the laptop, and gets into bed.
As Julia finds more and more incriminating things in her sister’s room, she is excited and overwhelmed. There is a whole side to Olga she never bothered to see, having assumed her sister was boring and perfect—and Olga skillfully maintained the façade for years, a fact that surely makes the trouble-prone Julia even more jealous.
In the morning, Julia wakes up in Olga’s bed. She panics, knowing that if she gets caught in the room she’ll be in trouble. She hurriedly makes the bed and tiptoes back to her own room—but as she twists the knob, she hears her mother come up behind her. Full of dread, Julia turns to face Amá, who has her hands on her hips and looks deeply angry.
Even though Olga is dead, For Amá the preservation of Olga’s things—and the perfect vision of her Amá always had—is more important than Julia’s grief.