The Earthseed scripture that opens this chapter states that “all struggles are essentially power struggles.” On Keith’s birthday, Lauren’s father and Cory give him a BB gun. Keith shoots birds, threatens to shoot Marcus, and then disappears, taking the gun with him. At the time Lauren is writing, Keith has been missing for 18 hours. The next day Lauren’s father goes looking for Keith, even calling the police despite the fact that he cannot afford their fee. Cory is distraught, so Lauren takes over her teaching. Some of the older students walk out, knowing that Lauren only finished high school two years before. Since then she has been doing college work with her father.
Once again, Lauren is shown to be more mature and wise than either of her parents. While her father’s decision to give Keith a BB gun was clearly misguided, Cory is so emotionally wrecked by Keith’s disappearance that Lauren must take over her teaching. The adults’ increasing inability to maintain control over life in the neighborhood suggests that Lauren may soon have to rebel against their authority and act on her own beliefs.
The next day there is still no sign of Keith. Cory seems to believe that he is dead, and accuses Lauren’s father of not trying hard enough to find him, even claiming that he loves Lauren more than he loves Keith. Lauren is stunned to hear her say this, as she and Cory have a close relationship. It has always confused Lauren why Keith is Cory’s favorite. Lauren’s father assures Lauren that Cory doesn’t mean what she says and that she loves Lauren like a daughter, but Lauren doesn’t believe him.
Keith’s disappearance creates an unbridgeable emotional rift within Lauren’s family. Note that at only 16, Lauren has a clear and unsentimental understanding of the adults around her, including their vulnerabilities and flaws. Although she loves Cory, she refuses to deny the reality of Cory’s negative feelings about her.
Two days later, Keith reappears without a scratch, wearing new clothes and shoes. Lauren’s father immediately destroys the BB gun, before viciously beating Keith. Afterward, Keith cries while Cory holds him. Marcus, traumatized, asks to sleep in Lauren’s room that night. Keith disappears and returns again, although this time their father doesn’t look for him. Lauren feels a strong sense of hatred toward Keith. On returning, Keith hands Cory a large roll of cash, which Lauren knows “must be stolen money or drug money or worse.” He gives the younger children expensive chocolate, but nothing to Lauren and Marcus. Before Lauren’s father comes back, Keith leaves again. He promises Cory that he knows what he is doing and will bring back money and gifts.
Although Keith is still only a child, he is suddenly able to exercise a significant amount of power over the family. By disobeying the rules of the family, neighborhood, and assumedly the country at large, Keith exceeds what is expected of him as a 12-year-old, both in a positive and negative sense. On one hand, he is rebelling against his father and likely breaking the law. Yet at the same time, he is providing for his family and demonstrating that he can take care of himself.