The school dance is approaching, and though Julia normally wouldn’t go, she’s determined to get to the afterparty, where she hopes she’ll run into the sister of the host—a girl who went to high school with Olga. Amá surprisingly agrees to let Julia goes to the dance, but insists on helping her pick out a suitable new dress for the occasion. The two of them go shopping at an outlet mall, but the trip is a disaster—the one dress Julia likes is a red-and-black number which Amá claims is revealing and unladylike. Frustrated, Julia locks herself in the dressing room and cries, embarrassed by her body and desperate to escape her mother’s constant judgement.
Julia is determined to continue her search for people who might know things about Olga she didn’t—she’s learning that more and more individuals were in on parts of her sister’s life that Julia herself was never privy to. Meanwhile, her relationship with Amá continues to be just as contentious and complicated, making Julia feel even more isolated in her search for answers. The conflicts, it’s important to note, often revolve around sex and what it means to be “good” or, in this case, “ladylike.”
The night of the dance, Julia borrows a dress from Lorena, and the two of them go to the event with a group of friends—Juanga has gone MIA after running off with an older man. Julia looks down on the girls she and Lorena are going to the dance with, seeing them as stupid, and when a guy from her grade tries to flirt with her and she shoots him down, he accuses her of thinking she’s “better than everybody.” Julia is angry, but briefly wonders if he’s right.
Julia is becoming aware, slowly, of her reputation for being aloof and judgmental. She’s not just this way with her family—she even acts coolly and contemptuously towards her peers. Perhaps there are ways in which she has more potential than her peers, but nonetheless the way she hides behind her sense of superiority isolates her.
After the dance, the girls head to the afterparty—even though Julia knows doing so will get her in trouble with Amá for staying out late. At the crammed, steamy afterparty at a house nearby, Julia begins trying to scope out the host’s sister. Though Lorena encourages her to relax and have fun, Julia can focus on nothing else. As the party gets sloppier and there’s no sign of Olga’s classmate, Julia finds Lorena and says she wants to go home. Lorena is flirting with a guy, and tells Julia to wait for her on the couch—they’ll leave, she promises, in five minutes. Julia sits down and falls asleep, and by the time Lorena wakes her up, it’s three in the morning—and she’s going to be in deep trouble.
Julia is so desperate to find more information about her sister that she risks getting in serious trouble with Amá. She is discouraged when she hits yet another dead end, and basically sinks into hopelessness as she falls asleep at the party. Note how Lorena is interacting with others in the world, while Julia is once again alone.
The next morning, after receiving her punishment, Julia calculates that she’s spent forty-five percent of the last two years grounded. Though she knows she’s not the ideal daughter, she’s hurt by the fact that her parents—especially Amá—treat her like a “degenerate.” When under severe punishment, and banned from even going to the library—like she is now—Julia feels painfully alone, and “hate[s] the life that [she has] to live.”
Julia can’t stop getting in trouble—and almost seems to relish the opportunity to get herself grounded, if only to languish in the unfairness she feels her mother is constantly leveraging against her. At the same time, this pattern is destructive, as Julia’s loneliness and hatred for her life shows.
As the days go by, Julia suffers feelings of self-loathing and struggles with insomnia. She bottles everything up, though, and shares none of her feelings with her parents or Lorena. One day, after class, Mr. Ingman pulls Julia aside to ask if everything’s okay. She insists she’s fine, but feels tears threaten to leak from her eyes. Mr. Ingman asks Julia if she’s really doing well, and Julia lies and says she’s emotional due to her period. Mr. Ingman, seeing through the excuse, tells Julia that she can’t blame herself for her sister’s death, and reveals that his own mother died spontaneously when he was just ten. Julia is comforted by the story, and by Mr. Ingman’s kindness.
Julia is having a hard time with her family, her friends, and indeed with her own grief. Other people know something’s wrong, but Julia is so staunch and stubborn—and surrounded by so few models of anyone else discussing their emotions—that she’s loath to accept help, guidance, or comfort from anyone else. Mr. Ingman, though, doesn’t want to let Julia slip through the cracks, and Julia briefly allows him into her world.
At home, the tired Apá is soaking his feet on the couch. Julia feels bad for her father, who always told her and Olga how important it was to get a good job in a nice office with air conditioning. Julia sits beside him on the couch and does her homework. When Amá comes home, she tells Julia she’s looking poorly, and asks if she’s been eating junk in secret. She tells Julia that she can’t be looking sallow for her quincé—she has to be “pretty for [her] family.” Julia feels a cramp in her stomach and goes to the bathroom—she has gotten her period a week early, which she sees as punishment for lying about it to Mr. Ingman.
Julia is under a lot of pressure both at home and at school, and she’s making things worse for herself in a lot of ways by constantly lying to everyone around her. She knows that she’s digging herself into a deep hole, but isn’t prepared to change her ways. Meanwhile, Amá’s behavior isn’t much wiser. Amá treats family like an inescapable obligation and the only source of meaning, while Julia treats it like an anchor that must be escaped in order to live.