A week later Tracy still hasn’t returned, which almost certainly means that she’s dead. Meanwhile, Bianca Montoya, another girl in the neighborhood, is pregnant at 17. She isn’t married to the baby’s father, and there is a “feud” between their families, although Lauren is glad that they are at least both Latino because fights over interracial couplings are intense. Getting married and having children seems crazy to Lauren given the state of the world, but she knows it is what the neighborhood expects her to do. Bianca is making preparations for the wedding, and Lauren admits she doesn’t know “whether Bianca is brave or stupid.” Lauren really likes Curtis and may love him, but says if marriage, children, and more poverty were the only things lying in her future she’d kill herself.
Once again, Lauren’s feelings about the future are in opposition with those held by most people in the neighborhood. While at times Lauren seems more hopeful than others about the possibility of a better life, she also rejects the notion of having children on account of the danger and difficulty of life in the present. She considers the possibility that Bianca and others who have children are “brave,” yet seems to be more convinced that they are in fact “stupid,” attempting to carry on a semblance of normalcy and thereby denying reality.
At the next target practice the group finds another corpse; one woman refuses to participate in target practice anymore after this. The oldest Payne kids still come, even though their uncle Wardell has been saying rude things about Lauren’s father. Keith, who is almost 13, begged to come even though he knows he is not allowed before he is 15. Lauren is disturbed by the sight of more skeletal people living in makeshift shacks beyond the neighborhood wall. Later, Lauren’s family discover that Keith stole Cory’s key and has left the neighborhood. Lauren’s father goes out to look for Keith, refusing Lauren and Marcus’s offers to help, and telling them to stay inside. Suddenly, Lauren sees a shadow moving across their neighbors’ porch, and then Cory hears a strange sound coming from inside the Olaminas’ house. Lauren’s father investigates, taking his gun with him.
Like Lauren, Keith is also desperate to grow up—yet his desire for adulthood seems far more reckless and destructive than that of his older sister. It is significant that both Keith and Tracy Dunn have recently volunteered to leave the neighborhood. Both Keith and Tracy are young people who are perfectly aware of the dangers of the world beyond the neighborhood gate, yet choose to go anyway. Although it doesn’t seem that Keith is on the same suicide mission as Tracy, both characters exhibit a nihilistic attitude toward life and a refusal to follow the rules and customs of the neighborhood.
Soon, Lauren’s father shouts for her to come inside the house. Keith is lying on the kitchen floor, wounded and filthy, surrounded by their siblings. Keith explains that he was attacked by five men, who stole the key to the neighborhood gate. Lauren’s father immediately runs out of the house, likely to warn others in the neighborhood. They will make new keys the next day. Keith curls up on the floor, knowing he will be harshly punished not only for losing the key but also for losing a set of clothes and pair of shoes. Lauren cleans up the blood and makes dinner for the family.
Keith is apparently fully aware of the threats he faces; he simply seems not to care about them. This does not bode well for Keith’s safety or the safety of his family and neighborhood.
The next day Keith is forced to confess what he did at church and apologize to his parents, the community, and God. Lauren’s father does not hit him, but instead asks over and over how he could be so stupid. Keith says that he wanted to prove he was a man; after two hours, he finally promises that he won’t do it again. Keith is not intelligent, but is highly stubborn. Lauren observes that he silently holds onto his anger.
To some extent, Keith’s pre-teen angst and desire to prove himself as a man is one of the most “normal” aspects of the narrative. Although Keith’s issues are certainly exacerbated by the fact that he lives in a gated community amidst an apocalyptic landscape, the struggle of wanting to grow up fast and rebel against authority is universal. However, in the dangerous and unforgiving world of the novel, there is little room for such struggles.