The Distance Between Us

The Distance Between Us

by

Reyna Grande

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The Distance Between Us: Book One: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A month later, on September 7th, Reyna turns five, but because Mago’s birthday is a month and a half later, Reyna is forced to wait weeks and weeks to celebrate so that their birthdays can be combined into one. On the day of the celebration, Emperatriz goes to the store and buys a beautiful birthday cake, and for once, the atmosphere in the house is one of joy and peace. Emperatriz takes pictures of the children cutting the cake, and urges them to smile so that she can send the photos to their parents. Mago decides to frown and look miserable in the picture, in hopes that her parents will see how unhappy she is and return to her. This tactic does not work, and the months continue to go by with no sign that Mami and Papi will ever come back.
There is little joy and even littler luxury in Reyna, Mago, and Carlos’s lives—Mago, most of all, wants their parents to know the truth of what is going on, and so she frowns in the picture of her happy, lavish party. Her attempts to get her parents’ attention fail, though, and as a result her and her siblings anxieties about being left behind forever start to worsen.
Themes
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
Poverty, Abuse, and Trauma Theme Icon
The one who does come back is Élida’s mother, María Félix. Reyna and her siblings have been at Abuela Evila’s house for over a year when Élida turns fifteen and officially becomes a señorita. Her mother returns to Iguala to throw Élida a big quinceañera. María Félix, too, has had a child in El Otro Lado, and though Reyna and Mago long to tease Élida about having been replaced, they are stunned and devastated when María Félix announces that their own mother has given birth to a baby girl named Elizabeth.
Reyna, Mago, and Carlos are forever connected to Élida through their shared trauma—the shared pain of having been abandoned by their mothers. The fact that both their mothers have also had children in El Otro Lado cements the bond between them, but also heightens their reluctance to ever share their pain with one another.
Themes
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
Forgiveness and Recognition Theme Icon
The next day, the entire family—including all of Reyna’s cousins—shows up at the house to receive gifts María Félix has brought from El Otro Lado. Out of everything in all her suitcases, she claims to have nothing for Reyna and her siblings, and explains that though their parents sent them some things, the suitcase which held them was lost at the airport. Mago accuses her aunt of having given away their presents, and runs away to be alone.
Mago is pained by the idea that Mami and Papi did not send her and her siblings any gifts. Though this is probably the truth—and it explains María Félix’s lie—it is too painful for Mago to confront, and she accuses her aunt of cruelty and deprivation instead.
Themes
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
Poverty, Abuse, and Trauma Theme Icon
Preparations for Élida’s quinceañera begin, and Reyna and her siblings are put to work making decorations for the party. Evila reluctantly makes Mago and Reyna new dresses to wear, but does so half-heartedly. Reyna’s dress is made improperly and sewn inside-out, but Evila refuses to rework the dress and forces Reyna to wear the ugly garment as it is. While everyone goes to church for the first part of Élida’s ceremony, Reyna, Mago, and Carlos are made to stay home and pluck chickens for the banquet later. Once the arduous job is done they all bathe themselves for the party, but no matter how hard they scrub, they cannot get the smell of dirty chicken feathers off of themselves.
As usual, Reyna and her siblings are forced to perform menial tasks and live as second-class citizens in their own home while attention and affection are lavished upon Élida. This particular form of abuse wears down their self-worth and increases their feelings of animosity towards anyone who has more than they do.
Themes
Poverty, Abuse, and Trauma Theme Icon
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That night at the party, Reyna watches Élida dance the waltz meant to be danced with one’s father with a butcher from town, a distant relative. Reyna becomes emotional and longs for her Papi’s return more than ever—when it is her turn to become a señorita, she wants to be able to dance the waltz with her father.
Reyna pities Élida for not being able to dance with her father at her quinceañera, and she dreams that when her own time comes, she will get to have that honor and joy—though this moment foreshadows that Reyna’s quince, too, will be marked by disappointment.
Themes
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
The next day, María Félix leaves with her son, promising Élida that one day she will send for her. Abuela Evila comforts Élida as she cries, and Reyna observes how strange it is to see her cousin so emotional. For once, Élida’s “ever-present mocking gaze” is gone, and it is Élida who is the “weeping, lonely, heartbroken” huerfanita. Mago pulls Reyna and Carlos close and tells them she loves them, and all three take solace in the fact that though their parents are gone, they at least have each other.
As Mago, Reyna, and Carlos see their cousin Élida reduced to pitiful tears for the first time, they recognize their own pain in hers, and they understand finally that they are better off than her, because at least in spite of it all they are not totally alone.
Themes
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
Forgiveness and Recognition Theme Icon
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