It is the day after Brian has left for boarding school. Noah sneaks into Jude’s room while she’s in the shower and sees a chat pulled up on her computer—she is flirting with someone with the username “Spaceboy,” whom Noah assumes is Brian. Noah is filled with jealousy, sadness, and rage at both Jude and Brian. Over the next several weeks, Noah enacts small acts of mischief and sabotage against his sister while secretly pining, in spite of it all, for Brian.
Noah is so hurt and angry about Jude’s perceived betrayal that he begins intentionally eroding and undermining his relationship with his sister.
Weeks later, Noah is in his room when he hears his father answer the front door, and then senses a girl’s voice—he realizes it is Heather, whom he hasn’t spoken to since the night of the party. Noah leaps out the window and runs down the street, through the woods, and all the way to CSA. Summer classes are over and the campus is deserted, save for a few cool art kids. Seeing them, Noah is struck by inspiration, and decides to search for the sculptor’s studio the English guy mentioned to him at the party.
Noah is so afraid to confront the mistakes of his recent path—and the truth of his sexuality, or the possibility that someone else could learn it—that he flees home.
After navigating through Lost Cove, Noah finds himself in front of a large warehouse space. As he stands on the street he is assaulted by memories of Brian—but tries to remind himself that what truly matters are the worlds he can make through his art, not the awful world he lives in. Noah decides to hop the fence outside the building and climb up the warehouse fire escape. In the warehouse yard, Noah encounters three enormous stone “monsters” in the shape of men.
In this passage, Noah once again takes refuge in art, uplifting the worlds he creates through his art as more “real” and meaningful than the world outside the confines of his mind.
A large, dark-haired man walks out of the building, speaking into his phone. As he laughs at something the person on the other end says, he throws his head back, appearing to Noah to be supremely happy. Before he hangs up, he whispers “Hurry, my love” into the phone and actually kisses it. Noah observes as the man leads a class of art students in a carving lesson. As Noah watches him talk to his students, Noah wishes he could “live on this man’s shoulder like a parrot.” When the man is finished with his carving students, Noah watches him go inside and begin instructing a group of drawing students. As Noah watches him sketch, he worries, for the first time, that he really might not get into CSA. Noah stumbles down the fire escape, having witnessed everything he wants to be—and everything he isn’t.
Nelson has, through Jude’s chapters, shown her readers a version of Guillermo who is haunted by grief and views art as a way of pummeling himself into submission—here, though, is a version of Guillermo who is deeply in love, who delights in art and his role as an art teacher, and who wants for his students to share in the joy he feels.
As Noah walks down the street, beating himself up for thinking he could ever get into CSA, he spots a familiar car—his mother’s. He checks the license plate to determine that it’s really her, and notices that she is hunched over the passenger seat. Noah approaches the car and raps on the window—but Dianna does not seem surprised to see him. She tells Noah that she dropped something on the floor of the car. Noah asks her what she dropped and she tells him it was an earring—but she is wearing both earrings. Noah, sensing that his mother is lying, decides to stop asking questions. Dianna tells Noah to get into the car, and though he is deeply weirded out, he gets inside.
This passage shows that there is something strange going on with Dianna. She is hiding something from Noah—and because their relationship has always been predicated on closeness and openness, he is deeply disturbed by the idea that perhaps they’re not as close as he has always believed.
On the drive home, Dianna tells Noah that there’s a dry-cleaner she likes on Day Street, and comes all the way out here to use them. She asks Noah what he’s doing so far from home, and he tells her that he simply went for a walk. Dianna’s phone buzzes in her lap and she silences the call, telling Noah that it’s work. Noah wants to believe his mother, but can see that she’s sweating profusely. He begins realizing that she followed him to Day Street—until, once back in their neighborhood, she parks her car in the wrong driveway. Embarrassed when Noah points out her mistake, Dianna restarts the car and drives towards home. Noah realizes then that something is not right. He tries to talk to his mother, but before he can get a word in, she says: “Everything’s going to work out.”
Just when Noah thinks that he has found the source of his mother’s shame and nervousness, it becomes apparent to him that there is indeed something much deeper going on with her. Noah is not just disturbed but genuinely frightened as he witnesses his mother’s strange, erratic behavior and realizes that she is just as in need of assurance that “everything [will] work out” as he himself is.
As the months go by, heavy rain falls nearly nonstop on Lost Cove. By November, the Sweetwine family’s roof is leaking. Despite the dreary atmosphere in town, there is one person, Noah notices, on whom it doesn’t seem to be raining—Dianna. Noah frequently catches his mother out on the deck smoking and talking on the phone—inside the house, she hums and wears jangly jewelry, two more activities that seem odd. Dianna often zones out, and when Noah calls her, he often has to say her name a few times to get her attention. He worries that his mother—a “blow-in”—is about to blow away.
Noah is now closely attuned to his mother’s increasingly strange behavior. She’s not frightened, nervous, or upset, though, as she was the day she found him on Day Street—she seems to be in a state of bliss, and drifting further and further away from her family with each passing day.
Since the summer, Noah has grown three inches. Jude has maintained her online communication with “Spaceboy” and become obsessed with surfing. There is a great deal of animosity between Noah and Jude, and one evening, as he comes in from school, he kicks over a bucket of dirty rainwater onto Jude’s carpet. When Noah enters his own bedroom, he is surprised to find his dad inside, sitting on the bed. Benjamin asks Noah if he wants to go to a father-son dinner—Noah is bewildered but thrilled to finally have some one-on-one time with his dad.
As Noah’s relationships with his mother and sister steadily deteriorate, his relationship with Benjamin—which has always been strained, cagey, and defined by Noah’s fear of not being “enough” for his father, may be beginning to blossom.
The two go out to a nice restaurant on the water and eat an extravagant meal. As they eat their steaks, Benjamin asks Noah a ton of questions about his art, and Noah is grateful to realize, at last, that his father is indeed proud of him. Benjamin reminisces about when the two of them used to watch nature programs together, when Noah was very young—Noah is horrified to not be able to remember these moments at all.
Noah realizes that he has been so avoidant of Benjamin due to his own fears and insecurities that he has effectively warped what was once a strong and tender relationship.
As the two of them pull into the driveway back at the house, they see that Dianna’s car is not there. Benjamin tells Noah about a dream he had in which Dianna was walking through the house, pulling frames, tchotchkes, and shelves off of the walls. He then asks Noah if Noah is “still” dating Heather. Noah, wanting to continue impressing his father, says that Heather is still his girlfriend. As Benjamin proudly cuffs Noah on the shoulder, he feels both embarrassed and proud.
As Benjamin and Dianna’s marriage falls apart, Benjamin seems to be searching for some confirmation that Noah has someone in his life—Noah, too afraid to tell the truth about his sexuality, lets his father keep on thinking that he and Heather are in a relationship.
Back in the house, Noah goes into his bedroom—where Jude has kicked a bucket of water onto his carpet in retaliation—and sees the date and the time on the clock on his desk. He realizes that today was his father’s birthday, and everyone forgot. Noah quickly draws a portrait of him and his father together on the back of a wildebeest and brings it into the living room, where he presents it to Benjamin. Noah sits together with his father on the sofa, and together they watch a football game one TV. Noah feels the lie about Heather sitting in his stomach like a stone, but ignores it, grateful to be able to share some closeness with his dad at last.
Noah realizes how his, Jude’s, and Dianna’s neglect of Benjamin’s feelings has weighed on the man over the years. He has been made to feel like an outcast in his own family—even though Noah always felt that he, mom, and Jude were the “weird” ones, he now sees how their alliance has impacted Benjamin.
A week later, Dianna and Benjamin sit Noah and Jude down and explain that Benjamin is going to temporarily move into a studio apartment so that the two of them can “work out some issues.” They explain to the children that while they love each other still, they need some space. Noah feels as if their family’s house is crashing to the ground, just like in Dad’s dream. Jude announces that she wants to go live with Dad, and Noah echoes her—Benjamin, though, protests, and insists they stay at home with their mother. The arrangement, he reminds them, is only temporary. Jude storms out of the room angrily, but Noah collapses into Dianna’s arms. She tells him, once more, that everything is going to be okay.
Later that evening, Jude and Noah stand at the window, shoulder to shoulder, and watch their father load a single suitcase into the car. The suitcase looks empty, but Jude tells Noah that she peeked, and there is one thing inside of it—the drawing Noah made on Dad’s birthday.
As Noah watches his father leave with only one thing in tow—a piece of art Noah made—Noah realizes how important he and Jude have been to Benjamin all along.
That night, Noah cannot sleep. As he lies in bed staring at the ceiling, his bedroom door opens, and Jude walks in. She crawls into bed with Noah, and Noah confesses that he always wished Dad would leave. Jude admits that she once wished their mother would die. Noah urges her to take the wish back before it’s too late—since his obviously came true.
In this passage, Noah and Jude’s shared belief in the power of the supernatural to impact the physical world is thrown into relief as they both confront their dark “wishes.”
There is a silence between the two, and then Jude sits on Noah’s chest and screams in his face that nothing happened between her and Brian in the closet. They simply talked about astronomy while they were in there together. Jude tells Noah that she knew all along that Brian was his “friend,” and off limits. Though Noah crankily shoves Jude off of him, inside he is elated that nothing happened between his sister and Brian after all. Confused, he asks her who Spaceboy is, and she confesses that it’s Zephyr she’s been chatting with.
Jude is sick of the animosity between her and her brother, and longs to fix it. Just as Noah misjudged how Benjamin perceived him, he has also misjudged Jude’s actions—and in both cases, failure to communicate has exacerbated the tension Noah feels with other members of his family.
Jude asks if Noah will stop hating her now, and Noah says he never hated her. They apologize to one another for their months of stony silence, and confess how much they’ve missed one another. They fall asleep together, peaceful and content.
As Jude and Noah finally communicate about their pent-up feelings, it seems as if they have patched things up—but their relationship will soon face even greater tests.
On the first morning of winter break, the smell of Dianna’s delicious baking wafts down the hallway and wakes Noah up. He is anxious—winter break means that Brian will be coming back to town soon. As Noah heads to the kitchen, Jude stops him, and orders him not to eat one morsel of Mom’s food in protest of the separation. However, once Noah gets into the kitchen, he can’t resist the smell of the pastry and happily takes a piece of pie. When Jude comes into the kitchen and sees Noah eating she rolls her eyes, but sits down with him and secretly has him pass her bites under the table.
Though Jude attempts to distance herself from her mother, she cannot fully do so. Attempting to refuse Dianna’s cooking is a metaphor for the ways in which Jude has tried to remove herself from Dianna’s influence—and foreshadows the ways in which she will continually fail to do so in the years to come.
Without warning, the kitchen door opens and Brian walks in. Noah involuntarily jumps up, then sits down—Dianna greets Brian, who admits that he could smell her baking from all the way down the block and came to taste some pie. As Brian locks eyes with Noah, Noah is aware of the crazy face he must be making. He is ecstatic to see Brian again, and immediately wants to do “everything” with him. Brian greets Jude, and then asks Noah if he wants to go for a walk. Noah happily agrees. He and Brian run out of the house and race into the woods—once they’re there, Brian pushes Noah up against a tree and begins kissing him passionately.
Noah has, for months, been unable to escape his feelings of grief, anger, and disappointment associated with Brian. But now, as Brian returns home for winter break, both boys are so elated to see one another that they begin immediately making up for lost time and acting upon the feelings they denied so strongly over the summer.
As Brian comes up for air, he admits he’s wanted to kiss Noah for a long time. They kiss some more, and Noah thinks about the guys he saw at the party at the end of the summer and how spellbound he was by their affection for one another. Noah feels as if he and Brian are in a painting—he is completely ecstatic. The moment is shattered, though, when Brian pulls away and tells Noah that “no one can [ever] know” about the two of them. He worries that his coming out would be the end of everything—his scholarship, his baseball career, his social life. Noah kisses Brian again and promises him that no one will ever find out.
Noah is thrilled to finally realize that his feelings for Brian were requited all along—but confused and a bit hurt when Brian wants to keep their relationship a secret. Brian is clearly still afraid of fully admitting the truth of who he is, and surrendering to his feelings of love and lust for Noah. Noah, though, is so happy to have Brian back that he will agree to any terms the other boy proposes.
A few days later, Noah and Brian are up in Noah’s room. Brian is watching footage of a meteor shower online, and Noah is sketching him. Brian has, for the last several days, been acting like the kiss in the woods never happened, and Noah has been following his lead. As the video on the computer ends, though, Brian confesses to Noah that he hasn’t been able to think about anything but their kiss for days. As Noah remembers it, he feels himself developing an erection—Brian notices, and asks Noah if he wants to masturbate. Together, the two of them, on opposite sides of the room, unbuckle their pants and begin masturbating. Just as Noah is about to climax, Dianna bursts into the room. The boys fumble to shove themselves back into their pants as Dianna quickly exits the room and closes the door.
As Noah and Brian explore the sexual side of their relationship, they must combat feelings of secrecy and shame. When they at last surrender to their desires, they are discovered in an embarrassing turn of events—and the sense that their sexuality is somehow “wrong” intensifies for both of them.
Brian leaves through the window hurriedly. Noah stews in anxiety and embarrassment for an hour until Dianna knocks on his door and announces that she’s coming in. She steps into the bedroom and says that she wants to talk to Noah about what happened. Noah says nothing, pretending to be working on a sketch, but when Dianna begins talking to him about “love” and “natural” urges, he remembers how, before Brian left, he confided in Noah that one of the other baseball players on his team at school was bullied, harassed, and even attacked when rumors that he was gay began flying around school. Before leaving through the window, Brian told Noah that things between them had to end.
Dianna is trying to get Noah to open up and express himself. She is not angered or upset by what she saw earlier—she simply wants to offer her son solidarity, love, and guidance. She doesn’t know, though, about Brian’s rejection of his feelings towards Noah—and the effect this has had on Noah.
Noah explodes in rage at Dianna, and tells her that it’s “all [her] fault” that Dad has left and that he and Jude are miserable. Dianna insists that she wants to talk about Noah, not about her own marriage, but Noah rebuffs her and refuses to open up. Before leaving the room, Dianna tells Noah that it is his “responsibility” to be brave.
Rather than admitting to the pain and confusion he’s feeling, Noah spins the conversation around and places the blame for his misery all on Dianna. Dianna wisely instructs Noah to remember who he is even in the face of grief and guilt, and to never hide himself away from the world.
The next morning, Noah wakes up early in a panic—he is afraid that Dianna is going to tell his dad about the incident with Brian and ruin the burgeoning closeness between him and Benjamin. Noah tiptoes through the house to his mother’s bedroom door and listens—he hears her talking on the phone. She says “I need to see you,” and explains that “something happened with Noah.” Noah overhears her making plans to meet at the Wooden Bird, a local landmark, later. Noah knocks on the door and enters—Dianna has hung up the phone, and looks as if she’s been up crying all night. She explains that she’s going out to a doctor’s appointment—Noah knows she is lying, but doesn’t argue.
Noah and Dianna are caught up in a seemingly endless cycle of secrecy and miscommunication. Noah refuses to communicate with his mother, but also insists on knowing her secrets—in attempting to pin down her actions, he will soon realize, he is only creating more pain and shame between them.
Noah tells Dianna that he doesn’t want her to mention what she saw to Dad, and she promises she won’t. She urges Noah, though, to be more open with Benjamin about who he really is—she warns Noah that he has “always” underestimated his father. Noah wants to believe his mother, but his thoughts begin spiraling, and he worries that she is lying to him about her intentions. Dianna tells Noah that she needs to start getting dressed for her “appointment,” but reassures him one last time that “everything’s going to be okay.”
In this passage, Dianna verbalizes what Noah has on some level always known, but only recently begun wrestling with: the fact that his own self-loathing and guilt undermine his ability to connect with others and accept love even from those closest to him.
Noah follows Dianna to The Wooden Bird—a local landmark made from a redwood tree carved in the shape of a bird. Noah hides in a bush and watches Dianna sitting on a bench, staring at the sea. After several minutes, a strange man approaches Dianna—it is the large artist from the Day Street studio. Noah watches as Dianna stands and runs into the man’s arms, embracing and kissing him. As Noah realizes that his mother is having an affair, he is filled with rage.
Noah is at last able to put all the pieces together—the reason Dianna was at Day Street that afternoon and the reason for her newfound happiness and clandestine phone calls all come together in this moment.
Noah runs away, and keeps running all the way home. When he is almost at his street, he spots Brian—walking with Courtney. He has a smudge of lipstick on his mouth, and his hand is in the back pocket of Courtney’s jeans. Noah, unable to handle the rage and confusion inspired both by his mother’s affair and this betrayal on Brian’s part, screams out, addressing Courtney: “Brian Connelly is gay!” Noah instantly wishes he could take back what he’s just said, but as he watches Brian’s face crumble, he knows he never will be able to.
Noah is overcome with feeling and is brimming with rage at himself, at Brian, and at Dianna. Seeing Brian hide the truth of who he is triggers Noah’s anger with Dianna’s choice to hide her affair—and with his own fear to proudly own his sexuality. Noah does something he can never take back—lashing out in a kind of anger that foreshadows the angry, withdrawn person he is becoming.
Inside the house, Noah sits down with his sketchbook and draws a piece of art which he leaves on his mother’s bed before going out to look for Jude. Noah can’t find her anywhere, though—Brian is nowhere to be seen, either.
Noah used art to express love for his father—and now uses it to express his hatred for his mother.
Noah returns home, where Dianna is waiting for him in his room with his picture in her lap—he drew her and the sculptor kissing in the foreground, and drew himself, Benjamin, and Jude watching in the background. Dianna tearfully says that she wishes Noah hadn’t followed her. Noah tells Dianna that he overheard her phone call and worried he would tell Benjamin. Dianna explains that telling Noah about his “responsibility” to his own desires the previous day triggered something in her—she realized she needed to follow her own heart. She now tells Noah that she is planning on asking Dad for a divorce.
Dianna is trying as hard as she can to lead by example—and to show her children that even in the face of mistakes they’ve made, their ultimate responsibility is to their own happiness. Noah can only see how selfish his mother is being, though, and is unable to understand the nuance and complexity of adult relationships.
Noah’s mind reels and he accuses Dianna of abandoning their family. He asks if Dianna plans on marrying her new lover, and she doesn’t deny it. Dianna explains that she and Benjamin have been trying very hard to repair their marriage for a long time—but in the end, “you can’t help who you love.” A silence falls over the room, and though Noah wishes that he could tell his mother everything and commiserate with her, he turns around and walks out instead.
Noah is, in this passage, on the brink of breaking down and allowing Dianna in—sharing with her the grief and confusion he feels both as a result of Brian’s abandonment and her own infidelity. Instead, though, he retreats into himself, and refuses to be vulnerable.