Tom's friends hassle him about having a birthday party, but Tom knows a party at Gran's house would be boring and he also wants to see Daniel. Brendan says that Daniel is doing better one morning as they run one of Brendan's hilly routes, specifically designed to get them ready for Everest. Tom is thrilled with how strong and muscular his body looks now. He attributes it to Gran's dinners, which he now eats for the most part. Gran is thrilled about that.
Tom's happiness with his body must be considered in relation to Daniel—Tom was never able to think about his own body with Daniel so caught up in his own, which suggests that this change in Tom has happened in part because Daniel is no longer around to influence Tom's sense of self.
One morning, Brendan and Tom run to the river and jump in. Tom thinks about bringing Chrissy to the river and tells Brendan that he won't have to go to the overly chlorinated Coghill pool anymore. Tom remembers how seeing Chrissy there last year sent him into a tailspin. Brendan notes that Daniel is taking the mentoring thing very seriously and getting him into the crisis center was the only thing that saved him. They discuss whether Fin will actually go see Daniel, and Brendan suggests that Fin and Aunty Kath are still too preoccupied with simply figuring out how to care for Fin to think that far ahead.
The discussion of Daniel's mentoring program and specifically, Brendan's assessment that mentoring saved Daniel reinforces the novel's earlier assertion that giving back in tangible ways like this is the only way to find a sense of relief and redemption. When Tom notes that he can go to the river instead of the pool, it shows that he's moving forward towards a brighter and less painful future.
As Brendan and Tom run back, they discuss their Everest climb. Brendan says that Tom will surely miss Chrissy, but Tom says that he knows she'll be waiting for him when he gets back.
Tom's trust in Chrissy indicates that he's more trusting of people in general, now that he truly believes friendship is important.
The day before Tom's birthday, he drives to see Daniel with Mum and Brendan. It's a week after the anniversary of the accident, and Tom thinks he could do the security checkpoints at the jail in his sleep. Daniel looks better, though Tom thinks he still looks like a prisoner. Tom muses that no matter how horrible Daniel was, he's still his brother and he figures into every one of Tom's memories. Tom wonders what would've happened had Daniel died or been paralyzed, and he wonders if it's bad that he's happy Daniel lived, even though what Daniel did was horrible.
Here, Tom finally chooses to accept that love and family don't always make logical sense. Daniel won't have to ask for forgiveness from Tom the same way he will from Fin, as Tom will love Daniel unconditionally. However, it's worth keeping in mind that Tom can only really make this leap because he now sees himself as his own person, not someone who's chained to the mistakes Daniel made.
Brendan and Tom visit with Daniel while Mum talks to the social worker. Daniel wants to know about Chrissy and jokes that they've brought in strippers and alcohol for the prisoners. Taking a more serious tone, he says that Owen made a surprise visit the other day. Tom notes that he didn't see Owen at the game with St. John's. Daniel says that Owen was there and told him all about how much Bennie's improved thanks to Dad and Tom. Daniel tells Tom he's proud of him.
Daniel's admission that he's proud of Tom acts as his blessing for Tom to continue his journey of finding out who he is separate from Daniel and "the legend of the Brennan Brothers." In turn, this suggests that both boys are truly growing up and coming of age, which is also evidenced by the fact that Daniel is clearly doing much better.
Mum arrives and says that the social worker told her that Daniel is doing a great job with Theo. Daniel says that it's going well; he and Jerry are finally starting to get through to him. Tom notices that when Daniel smiles, his eyes look just like Mum's. He marvels that Daniel's eyes look happy now, but they held such rage and hatred the night of the accident.
Again, Daniel's obvious joy at the fact that he's making a difference in Theo's life suggests that while Daniel may not be able to fix what happened in Mumbilli, he can find relief by helping others in a similar situation.
Gran makes roast pork for Tom's birthday dinner and cooks it perfectly. Chrissy makes a cake and Jonny brings party hats. Tom thinks that Gran's saints seem to be smiling at his family. Most of the gifts are items or money for the Nepal trip; Chrissy's gift is a travel journal in which she wrote notes for every day Tom will be gone. After the party winds down, Gran calls Tom into her room for his present. He knows it'll be birthday socks as usual. She pulls out a card with a saint on it, notices Tom's horrified look, and then says that card is actually for Father Vincent.
In particular, Tom's observation that the saints seem to be smiling encapsulates Tom's journey: while he once thought them dark and creepy, they're now his friends too in a way. This is also indicative of his closer relationship with Gran, who shows that she's taking Tom's individuality into account by not giving him a card with a saint on it.
Tom asks her which saint was on the card. Gran says it was Saint Clare; she wants Father Vincent to find her a larger painting when he's in Sydney so that she can replace Saint Bernadine in her bedroom. Gran mutters that Saint Bernadine was never any help to her, and Tom remembers that Bernadine was supposed to protect gamblers like Pa. He asks Gran about Saint Clare, and Gran says that Clare saved her home and town. She pulls out an envelope and passes it to Tom, and Tom feels like he understands who Gran is for the first time: she turned to religion to protect herself from a marriage that didn't serve her. The envelope contains plane tickets to Nepal.
Gran's decision to replace Saint Bernadine is a decisive example of the way that Gran is able to find a sense of control and power through religion—when one of her saints doesn't do what they're supposed to do, she can literally remove them from her life. Tom's new understanding of this fact shows that he now truly sees Gran as a whole individual who cares for her family more than anything; she's even willing to use her beloved saints to help them.
As Chrissy studies for her finals, Tom does his best to stay out of her way. He hangs out with Rory, Brad, and Jimmy at the pool. He feels bad about not telling them about the swimming spot at the river, but Brendan swore him to secrecy. Tom also keeps it a secret because he's decided to take Chrissy there after her final exam. On Friday afternoon, he discovers that she's been planning the same thing. He discovers a note on his bed from her, asking him to meet her at the river at seven the next morning.
Hanging out at the pool with the guys shows that Tom now truly embraces all that Coghill has to offer: friends, a girlfriend (assuming she finishes her finals), and a window into his future. It's also notable that he's not spending this time alone in his room, wallowing. This shows clearly that now, Tom is willing to lean on friends to help him through.
The next morning, when Brendan sees Tom dressed to go for a run without him, he's thrilled. Brendan talks about how hot it's going to be, and Gran asks Tom to check the chickens later, as one is laying. She gives Tom detailed instructions and by the time she's done and in the car with Kylie and Brendan, it's 6:50. Tom races down the track to the river. He can't see Chrissy, but he's sure she's there and yells for her. Finally, he hears her giggling. She swims out from behind some water lilies, naked. Tom rips his shoes off and Chrissy says he can only get in the water naked. He strips off his boxers and jumps in.
In this moment, Tom begins to pull away from his blood family in favor of someone who is, in some ways, his chosen family. The fact that this happens near water further reinforces that for Tom, Chrissy and their romance is his future and will allow him to truly recover from the trauma of the accident.
Chrissy swims to Tom and he takes her in his arms. They tell each other that they love each other, and Tom says that Chrissy helped him find his old self after the accident. They swim to the shore, climb out, and have sex on the riverbank. Tom feels as though he's finally himself again.
Having sex completes Tom's coming of age journey, while the fact that this happens next to the river reinforces that Tom is truly moving towards a brighter future as he comes of age.