In 1994, Reyna enrolls in an English class at Pasadena City College that is part of the requirements for transfer to a four-year college. Her instructor is Diana Savas, a Greek-American woman who speaks Spanish. The first assignment Savas gives to the class is an essay about the groups to which the students in the class belong—racial, economic, religious, et cetera. Reyna has trouble with her essay, and doesn’t feel she belongs anywhere outside of her family, so she begins writing about that. A few days after Reyna turns in the essay, Dr. Savas asks Reyna to her office. She explains that though Reyna didn’t exactly complete the assignment correctly, her writing is wonderful. Reyna feels seen for the very first time.
Reyna has been seeking praise from Papi—mainly through music and writing—for many, many years, but it has never come. Now, in the early days of her new college program, she is singled out and recognized as a talent by her instructor, and the feeling fills Reyna with pride and joy. Writing about her family becomes a way for Reyna to exorcise her own demons and communicate who she is to the world.
The following semester, even though Reyna isn’t taking one of Dr. Savas’s class, she stops by the professor’s office to say hello. Dr. Savas gives Reyna a book by a Latina writer as a birthday present, and when Reyna takes it home and reads it, she is shocked. For the first time, she is reading about characters who live in a world similar to her own.
Reyna begins to realize, through her relationship with Dr. Savas, that reading and writing can be a way of finding a community—and one’s place in the world.
Reyna visits Dr. Savas more and more frequently. They never talk about personal matters—just about books and writing. Sometimes Reyna longs to tell Dr. Savas the truth about what’s going on at home: that Papi is having an affair, and that he and Mila are fighting more—and that the fights have turned physical.
Though Reyna is carving out a place for herself in the world, she remains terrified to the point of paralysis when it comes to asking for help where Papi and his abuse are concerned.
After one such horrible fight, Mila goes to the hospital because Papi pushed her down the stairs and onto some gardening tools. Reyna takes Betty, who is visiting, to her room to avoid Papi. Some time later, Reyna is awakened by a police officer who informs her that Papi is being arrested. Reyna feels a confusing mix of emotions: she is happy that Papi is getting what he deserves, but simultaneously doesn’t want him to go to jail.
Reyna has been longing for Papi’s abuse to stop—but when someone finally puts a stop to it, she is overcome with conflicting emotions. At the end of the day, Papi is still the Man Behind the Glass to her in many ways, and she is quick to excuse his errors when things get tough.
That night, when Reyna takes Betty home to Mami’s, Mami offers Reyna the chance to come stay with her. For the first time, the two women discuss frankly the beatings they have both suffered at Papi’s hands. Reyna goes back over to Papi’s the next day and collects her belongings. After just one night spent at Mami’s cramped and dirty apartment, though, Reyna knows she can’t stay—the neighborhood is too dangerous, and the commute to school can take up to three hours.
Though Reyna and Mami begin bridging part of the emotional distance between them while sharing stories of the abuse they’ve both suffered, Reyna realizes that she does not belong in Mami’s house—there is still not enough space in Mami’s life for her. However, as she recognizes Mami’s suffering in her own, she begins to forgive her mother in a new, deeper way.
Unsure of what to do and desperate for help, Reyna goes to Dr. Savas’s office and at last confesses the truth about her home life. Diana listens carefully, and then offers Reyna the chance to come live with her in her college-owned housing. Reyna doesn’t want to be a burden, but she also knows she can’t stay in her current situation. She gladly accepts Diana’s offer, and moves in with her professor. Though at first it is awkward for her to be in Diana’s house, and she is uncertain of how to behave, Diana soothes her anxieties and makes Reyna feel welcome. Reyna hears word that Mila has dropped all charges against Papi and has moved back into the apartment, but Reyna knows she can’t return—things will only get worse between them.
Reyna is afraid of being an imposition—she has been taught all throughout her life that relying on others for help is a burden, especially after her experiences with Abuela Evila and Mila.
As Reyna explores Diana’s extensive library of books, she finds solace in stories and novels by Latina authors, such as Sandra Cisneros and Isabel Allende. Reyna can’t believe she’s never read their books before, as they are a “revelation.” They allow her to see that there are other people who have experienced the things she has experienced—abuse, alienation, familial struggles. Diana takes Reyna to Greek restaurants and foreign films, and she encourages Reyna to apply for writing scholarships. Reyna’s worldview begins to broaden. Years later, Reyna writes, she will visit the offices and living rooms of the writers she learned to admire through Diana, and she owes the fact that so many of her dreams came true to Diana’s belief in her.
As Reyna’s world expands, she leaves behind the crushing weight of her pain, trauma, and suffering, and finds new ways of encountering herself and indeed forgiving herself for allowing herself to be treated so badly. Reyna sees all that life has to offer and comes to understand her full potential—not as someone in debt to her father, abandoned by her mother, or abused by her grandparents, but as someone firmly in charge of her own path.