When Reyna starts eighth grade, she has officially become a señorita, and has also placed out of ESL classes—she is allowed to start regular eighth-grade English. She has become obsessed with reading, and finds solace particularly in the books of V.C. Andrews—one book, Flowers in the Attic, is about four siblings who are locked away by their cruel grandparents after their father’s death. Over the months, the children’s mother starts visiting them less and less frequently as she begins dating other men. V.C. Andrews’s stories make Reyna feel better about her own life, and grateful that things for her were never as bad as they could have been.
Reyna is truly stunned by the similarities between her own life and the stories of V.C. Andrews’s put-upon characters. These stories both allow Reyna to process her feelings of betrayal, abandonment, and anger, while allowing her to see that things could always be worse.
Halfway through the school year, Reyna enters a short-story competition. Just as with her book competition in elementary school, Reyna enters hoping that, if she wins, she’ll finally make Papi proud. She writes a short story about identical twins who are separated as young girls after their parents divorce. Through her writing, Reyna is able to explore stories about broken families, absent parents, and separated siblings. Writing, alongside the alto sax, becomes one of Reyna’s favorite ways of expressing herself.
Reyna’s never-ending quest to prove herself to Papi is given new life when the writing competition is announced. Though Reyna’s primary goal is to win the competition “for” Papi, there’s no denying that writing has become a cathartic and healing process for her which allows her to confront her own traumas, learn more about herself, and explore what it would mean to forgive those who have wronged her.
Several weeks later, Reyna is announced as the winner of the writing competition. Her English teacher gives her the competition prize—a blue ribbon and two tickets to go on the Queen Mary. Reyna is confused, and thinks she’s just won two tickets to a cruise. When her teacher explains that the Queen Mary is docked in Long Beach and doesn’t actually go anywhere, Reyna is vaguely disappointed, but still proud of herself. She brings her prize home to Papi, but when she shows him what she’s won, he is unenthusiastic. He doesn’t see the point of traveling all the way to Long Beach to go on a ship that doesn’t sail. Reyna is sad, but doesn’t allow herself to be discouraged. She puts her prize in a memory box, sits down at her desk, and begins writing another story.
Reyna is so proud of herself for winning the competition that Papi’s disenchantment barely fazes her. She wants to prove her worth to her Papi, and has spent her whole adolescence trying to do so. Along the way, she has proved something about her own value and her own potential to herself, as well.