In November of her junior year of high school, Reyna is accepted into the All City Honor Marching Band. To get in, though, she has to switch from the sax to the bells—a change she’s very sad about. Despite her big accomplishment, Papi has offered Reyna no praise or congratulations—even though she’ll soon be performing in the 1992 Rose Parade.
Papi continues to look right past Reyna’s accomplishment, even as she calibrates her whole life around making choices that will impress him and pay the debt she feels she owes to him.
Reyna begins a flirtation with another member of the band named Axel. Though they like each other, Axel wants to keep their romance a secret. Reyna knows why Axel is ashamed to be with her—ever since her freshman year, she has been “cursed” with a bad reputation because of her aloofness and her rebellious streak. No girls at school will be friends with Reyna, and the only real relationships she has with any of her classmates are with boys who want to make out with her and then blow her off. Reyna hasn’t yet realized just how deeply her abusive relationship with Papi has affected her relationships with boys at school.
Though readers have mostly seen Reyna in the home sphere, she now reveals that her strange, miserable home life has made things at school very difficult for her. The ways in which she’s been denied a normal social life stem from how bad things are at home, but Reyna can’t understand the truth behind her suffering yet.
When the day of the Rose Parade arrives, Mago is the only member of Reyna’s family who attends her performance. In the weeks after the parade, Reyna notices that Axel will only hang out with her in places they can’t be seen. One day, she overhears people talking about how Axel has asked another girl to the prom. Reyna runs home and cries to Mago about it, but Mago tells her to move on—Axel isn’t worth it. Reyna wants to say that it’s she who is worthless. Why else, she wonders, would Papi and the guys at school all treat her so badly?
Reyna has had to deal with being abandoned by women and abused by men all of her life. She feels that her self-worth is shattered, and her complicated perception of herself as someone unworthy of love, attention, or good treatment has only grown worse as the abuse she’s suffered has intensified.
The day of the prom, Mago takes Reyna out dancing to distract her. They drive across town in Mago’s new car, dressed up in fancy clothes. Reyna knows that Mago is incurring a lot of credit card debt, and speculates that her sister wants to make up for the years she spent in poverty, dressed in rags. Mago has dropped out of college to work full-time in order to stave off her debt, and though she tries not to judge her sister, Reyna wonders why Mago has abandoned her dreams. Once they arrive at the club, Mago sneaks Reyna in, and they dance the night away. Reyna can’t stop thinking, though, of what Axel and his new girlfriend must be doing. All she knows for sure is that he must not be ashamed of being seen with whoever the new girl is.
Even though Mago attempts to take Reyna out on the town and show her a good time in order to distract her from her worries, Reyna’s fixation on winning the attention and love of a boy—perhaps to fill the void left by Papi’s indifference—interferes with even fun, mundane activities.