A seventeen-year-old girl, Molly Ayer, is in her bedroom, listening to her foster parents argue through the walls. Her foster mother, Dina, is telling her foster father, Ralph, that she wasn’t prepared to take care of a kid with so “many problems.” Through a close third-person narration, Molly explains that she knows it was Ralph’s idea to become foster parents. Molly believes he was inspired by his own experience as a “troubled teen” who benefited from the guidance of a mentor. Molly considers Dina, who works as a police dispatcher, as “high strung” and easily upset when her expectations aren’t met. Molly describes her own low expectations of others’ character and reliability. Her boyfriend, Jack, at first surprised her by seeing past her “goth persona” (which she created to appear less “vulnerable”) in order to befriend her.
This introduces Molly, the novel’s other protagonist, and immediately there is a parallel between her situation and that of Vivian (the narrator of the prologue), particularly the fact that they are both orphans. Dina’s attitude reveals how precarious Molly’s living situation is – unlike most children in healthy families, there is no room for Molly to have “problems” or make mistakes. Molly is surprised when others are caring or reliable, her skepticism a product of her accumulation of losses and disappointments. Her “goth” style allows her to keep people at a distance, likely to prevent further hurt and disappointment.
Molly describes Jack’s background: His Dominican father abandoned his white mother and returned to his country. His single mother now works as a maid for an elderly woman. Jack is a star soccer player, but what Molly values most is his intelligence – a trait she values in herself, too. She is an avid reader, particularly of books with “angsty protagonists.” She describes how her goth style requires “effort to stay in character”, and decides that in her next home, she will choose a lower maintenance “persona”. She believes that Dina, who happens to dislike Molly’s goth “persona”, will soon force Ralph to kick her out. Molly even starts packing in case she needs to leave. Her duffle bags, a gift from Ralph, came from an outlet and are embroidered with other girls’ names.
Molly’s fondness for literature is a reflection of her academic aptitude as well as her need to relate to others. Unable to trust most other people, she still finds a way to connect to human emotions and experience through fiction. The use of the word “persona” shows how Molly uses style to create new identities. The names on the duffel bags and Dina’s attitude toward Molly’s “persona” show how Molly’s selfhood is often unseen or rejected by foster families. But by frequently altering her “persona,” Molly reclaims a sense of agency over her identity.
Jack calls. Molly nonchalantly tells him that when Dina found out Molly was arrested for stealing a library copy of Jane Eyre, she was furious. Jack believes Molly was falsely accused, and he is surprised when she reveals that she did it. She explains to the reader that she just wanted to “have it in her possession.” Molly puts on a charm necklace with a fish, a bear and a raven – a gift from Molly’s father for her eighth birthday, just before he died in a car accident. A year later, her mother was in prison. She puts on the necklace whenever she fears being displaced again. Molly believes Jack will soon give up on her. He tells her he would have bought the book for her, but Molly avoids depending on others because it leads to disappointment. Jack, however, remains optimistic. He tells her that the elderly woman his mother works for needs help cleaning out her attic, and that Molly could volunteer to fulfill the community service requirement of her probation. He tells her he has already arranged an interview with Mrs. Daly.
Molly perceives Jack’s disbelief as a sign of disappointment—and, likely based on her past experiences, she believes his disappointment means he will leave her. Unlike youth with healthy family relationships, Molly feels that there is no room for her to make mistakes. But contrary to her expectations, Jack is only upset because he wishes she had asked him for help. This shows his desire to deepen their relationship. Molly’s desire to have the book “in her possession” suggests that few things in life have been “hers” to keep. The necklace is symbolic of her resilient connection to her family, the past, and her true identity. By putting on the necklace when her situation becomes unstable, she comforts herself with a sense of belonging.
Dina angrily calls for Molly to come out of her room, so she and Jack hang up. In the living room, Molly tells Ralph and Dina she has found a way to fulfill her community service hours, but that she is prepared if they want to kick her out anyway. Ralph says he doesn’t want her to leave, but Dina says, “we need to talk about it.” Molly can tell they have been fighting about her. She tells them “it’s okay if it doesn’t work out.” With “bravado borrowed from Jack,” Molly feels calm, aware that she “can survive just about anything.” She feels that most of the things other people fear—loss, loneliness and rejection—have already happened to her, and she’s survived them all.
Ralph and Dina’s opposing reactions support Molly’s suspicions that Ralph wants her there and Dina doesn’t. By choosing to stay calm and “borrowing” Jack’s confidence about her situation, Molly finds ways to feel and appear invulnerable. This allows her to prevent further hurt and improve her chances of surviving emotionally. She finds a way to feel strong and fearless by considering how the fears that preoccupy most people have already come true for her.