Mia agrees to work as the Richardsons’ housekeeper three times a week, and to prepare their dinners each night, for three hundred dollars a month. Pearl is privately angry that her mother will intrude on her relationship with the Richardsons, and what she views as “her space,” though her mother’s new job will effectively cancel out their rent. Pearl is particularly upset to have her mother hovering over her burgeoning flirtation with Trip. Mr. Richardson finds the arrangement “awkward” as well, though he talks to Mia about how he got to Shaker Heights. He fell in love with Mrs. Richardson in college, and she brought him back to Shaker after graduation. Mr. Richardson tells Mia that “if working here ever stops suiting [her] needs, there will be no hard feelings.”
Mia is, once again, seen as a major disrupting force—this time, it is not just the Richardsons who see her presence that way, but her own daughter as well. Mr. Richardson’s reassurance to Mia that there will be no bad blood between their families should Mia want or need to quit reveals that there is something genuinely altruistic about him, as opposed to his wife’s false altruism, which has led to Mia being put in the awkward position of relying on the Richardsons as both her landlords and employers.
Mia settles into her schedule: she works at the house from eight thirty in the morning until ten, then goes home for the rest of the day until five, when she returns to cook, insisting that the middle of the day is the best time for her to work on her photography, though truthfully wanting to “study the Richardsons both when they were there and when they weren’t.” Mia observes the Richardsons’ schedules and habits, and learns things about them from what they throw in the trash and keep on their shelves. Mia also observes changes in her daughter, as Pearl picks up phrases and gestures from each of the Richardsons.
As both an artist studying people and a mother concerned about her daughter’s environment, Mia wants to get a full, holistic sense of the Richardson family and the way they navigate their household and each other. Because Mia is in charge of picking up after them and preparing meals for them, she develops not just a familiarity but an intimacy with the more hidden parts of each member of the Richardson family’s identities.
A week into working for the Richardsons, Mia finds herself alone in the kitchen with Izzy, who is suspended from school. Izzy introduces herself as “the crazy one,” then sits with Mia in the kitchen while she works and recounts the story of her suspension. Mia makes her a piece of toast and listens. The mean, alcoholic orchestra teacher at the Richardson children’s school, Mrs. Peters, made racist remarks to one of Izzy’s kindest classmates, Deja Johnson, when she was having difficulty keeping up during a complicated piece of music. Unable to bear the injustice, Izzy broke her teacher’s violin bow and threw the pieces in her face.
Izzy’s outbursts and disruptive qualities have previously been benign. This is the first violent thing she’s done, and she still doesn’t feel as if it made enough of a statement. Izzy’s actions at this point are motivated almost entirely by altruism, even if there is a tinge of desire to act out and continue in her role as a rebellious disruptor—a role that has become comfortable, or at least expected for Izzy. This scene also shows some explicit racism beneath Shaker Heights’ façade of equality and happy prosperity.
Izzy is frustrated with having been suspended when she believes she was standing up for what was right. Mia asks her what she plans to “do” about her circumstances, and, Izzy, never having been asked that question before, is shocked to discover that she has agency over her life and choices.
Though the word manipulation can carry dark connotations, Mia is manipulating Izzy in a positive way here: she is showing her the power of her own actions and the validity of her thoughts and emotions. It seems that Izzy had gotten much validation or affirmation from her own mother.
A bit later, Izzy, with “the heart of a radical but the experience of a fourteen-year-old living in the suburban Midwest,” reveals her plan to toilet paper Mrs. Peters’s house. However, Moody, Pearl, and Mia advise against it. Mia recalls a student at her own high school having glued the lock in a teacher’s door shut. Izzy hears a “permission” in Mia’s words and, using them as a jumping-off point, devises a plan. She then ropes Moody and Pearl into helping her.
Izzy, Moody, and Pearl are excited to finally have an adult’s approval as they plan a major disruption. Mia giving them “permission” to act out is left vague—she wants them to be able to express themselves and seek justice for a classmate, but her own desire to create mischief plays a key role in her help as well. This also sets a precedent for Izzy taking Mia’s advice too literally sometimes.
Moody, Pearl, and Izzy “immobilize” their high school in under ten minutes by inserting toothpicks into every locked door and snapping the ends off. As teachers arrive to their classrooms, the instructors further jam the locks by inserting their keys, and delight and confusion overtake the hallways. While the school’s janitor makes his way through repairs, Mrs. Peters, hung over and chugging a large thermos of coffee, becomes increasingly agitated by her inability to access the locked faculty restroom. She finally deigns to use the student bathroom, but urinates all over the floor before she can make it to the toilet. She is humiliated, and earns the nickname “Mrs. Pissers.”
Izzy’s prank results in her classmates’ delight and Mrs. Peters’s humiliation. Izzy could never have foreseen the way her disruption would unfold, but her manipulation of circumstances to achieve Mrs. Peters’s complete embarrassment definitely delivers justice as Izzy sees fit.
In the wake of the prank, toothpicks are banned from school, and Izzy and Deja experience a moment of silent solidarity—Mrs. Peters now leaves Deja alone. The prank’s largest side effect, though, is Izzy’s respect for and adoration of Mia Warren, who has given her permission to “delight in mischief [and] in breaking the rules.” She goes to the house on Winslow and begs Mia to allow her to become her photography assistant, offering to work for free. Something in Izzy “reache[s] out to [Mia] and [catches] fire,” and Mia agrees to take Izzy under her wing.
Izzy knows that she couldn’t have pulled off the prank—and wouldn’t even have thought to do it in the first place—if not for Mia, who gave her confidence and the realization of her own agency. The “fire” that sparks between them is a symbol both of chaos and renewal—a new chapter in both their lives, as they’ll begin to seek things from one another and give to one another as well.