After school, Darby drops Makani off at Grandma Young’s house. Makani enters the house and finds Grandma Young on the couch watching TV. Grandma Young explains that she’s waiting for the local news to start so she can hear what Creston Howard, the handsome Black news anchor, has to say about Haley’s murder. Makani scrolls through her phone, though she’s long since given up hope that her former best friend, Jasmine, will text her. She’s also stopped hoping that things would go back to the way they were before. Looking back, Makani realizes that things definitively changed the minute she changed her surname from Kanekalau to Young, her mother’s maiden name—a decision she made to make herself less Google-able.
This scene offers more insight into Makani’s mysterious Hawaii incident. The narrative reveals that the incident has caused Makani’s (former) best friend, Jasmine, to stop speaking with her. The detail about Makani changing her name from Kanekalau to Young to be less searchable on the internet also helps explain why Makani is so hesitant to gossip about Haley’s murder. It seems that she was the victim of cyber-bullying of some kind, so she knows the pain that results from people attacking one’s character for things they’ve done—or are rumored to have done.
There are no messages from home in Makani’s phone, though she prefers this to the hate messages she used to get. Only people like Jasmine still care about “the incident.” Grandma Young reminds Makani not to leave the cabinets open when she leaves for school. Makani insists that she didn’t. When she looks up at Grandma Young, the older woman lowers her eyes. Makani knows it’s hard for her grandmother to admit her weaknesses—it’s a trait they share. Makani wants to continue talking about her grandma’s issue but recognizes the hypocrisy of such a request.
If Makani’s “incident” caused her peers to send her hate messages, it seems likely that they believe she’s guilty of some kind of betrayal or other social ill. Regardless of what, exactly, Makani did, it’s clear that the aftermath of the incident brings Makani a lot of inner pain and suffering. Grandma Young’s remark about the cabinets seems innocuous enough, but the narrative makes a point to draw attention to it, so it’s worth keeping track of—it might be relevant to the plot down the line.
Another thing Makani and Grandma Young have in common is that they both committed an “unspeakable mistake.” Last Thanksgiving, still grieving the loss of Grandaddy Young, Grandma Young sleepwalked to her neighbor’s house and started pruning his walnut tree. When he tried to stop her, she clipped the tip of his nose off. The neighbor generously decided not to sue, but the incident scared Makani’s mother, and she decided to send Makani to Nebraska to live with Grandma Young. While Grandma Young mostly can fend for herself, she’s needed Makani more often the past few months. Makani likes feeling needed—though she can recall one incident where being needed backfired on her.
Again, the narrative’s reference to Makani’s “unspeakable mistake” teases whatever happened between Makani, Jasmine, and the rest of their friend group back in Hawaii. Readers still don’t know exactly what Makani did, but whatever it was, it was traumatic to the point that Makani can’t bear to mention it outright—even after a year has passed. That Grandma Young’s sleepwalking worsened after the death of Grandaddy Young points to the impact of trauma, grief, and loss. Grandma Young’s grief for Granddaddy Young is so great that it manifests physically, causing her to sleepwalk.
Makani thinks back to last July, on the one-year anniversary of Grandaddy Young’s death. Slipping back into the memory, Grandma Young wants to spend the day alone, so she sends Makani out to do some shopping at Greeley’s Foods, the nearby supermarket. Makani walks into the store and locks eyes with Ollie Larsson, who works there. Ollie recognizes Makani but makes no effort to say hello. He continues to do his duties as Makani wheels her shopping cart through the store and anxiously tries to think of something to say to him.
Makani and Ollie’s mutual inability to look or interact with each other is a comically stereotypical depiction of young love. Their painful social awkwardness also gestures at the alienating experience of being a teenager, feeling misunderstood, and not being able to effectively communicate or understand one’s feelings.
Makani completes her shopping without speaking to Ollie. She exits the store and starts loading everything into Grandma Young’s early 1990s gold Taurus station wagon. Suddenly, she hears laughter coming from the alley behind the store. Ollie is there, a book in his hands. Makani slams the trunk shut, walks over to him, and demands to know if there’s something funny about Grandma Young’s car. Ollie smiles and gestures toward his own car—a decommissioned police cruiser he’d gotten from his brother—to show her that he’s in no position to judge her embarrassing car. He was really laughing at himself for wanting to talk to her earlier but not knowing what to say. Makani smiles. She tries to remain calm, but it’s been so long since she’s been attracted to anyone, and she’s excited.
Had Makani not confronted Ollie about his laughter, she might not have known that Ollie was laughing at himself for his social ineptitude—not at Makani for driving an older car. But when Makani does confront him, forcing the two of them to communicate frankly and directly, she finds out the truth and drops her defensive shield. She and Ollie both benefit from direct communication. This is the opposite of what happens when characters rely on gossip and assumption to know about others, something the novel shows more often creates hurt and misunderstanding.
Makani and Ollie stand close to each other. Makani asks about the book Ollie is reading. He explains that it’s a travelogue—one of his favorite genres—about a man who travels by train from London to Southeast Asia. They connect over their mutual desire to be anywhere but Osborne. Ollie asks her if she’s going to return to Hawaii after graduation. Makani panics for a moment but decides it’s unlikely Ollie knows about “the incident.” She shrugs.
Makani and her friends aren’t the only ones who long to leave Osborne—Ollie, too, longs for the day he can leave his boring, rural hometown behind him. He reads travelogues to mentally escape his stifling, unsatisfying present environment. Makani’s paranoia about Ollie knowing about “the incident” again teases this mysterious part of Makani’s past. It’s clear that a lot of what bothers her about it is that other people will find out about it and judge her—she fears that people will abandon her all over again.
Ollie tells her he doesn’t much care where he ends up, so long as he can leave Nebraska. Right now, the only things keeping him here are his brother and lack of money. He’s been working at Greeley’s for four years now. Makani wishes she could have a job, but her parents insist that her only job is to take care of her grandmother. Ollie is surprised to hear this, since Grandma Young has always seemed fine to him.
That Ollie doesn’t have a clear idea of where he’ll go once her leaves Nebraska—or how he’ll get there—shows that his plans for leaving are half-baked and superficial. He seems to possess a youthful idealism that moving to a new place will magically make all his problems go away, when there’s no guarantee this will be the case.
Makani admits that her parents are only using Grandma Young as an excuse to send her away. She’s immediately ashamed to talk badly of her parents in front of Ollie, who is an orphan. She imagines it must be hard to live in a small town where everyone knows that a drunk driver killed your parents when you were in middle school. Ollie doesn’t seem to mind Makani’s mention of her parents. He shrugs it off and Makani apologizes for being insensitive. Ollie apologizes for Makani’s parents being awful, and Makani can’t tell whether he’s joking. When he grins, though, her heart flutters. They plan to see each other later.
This interaction between Makani and Ollie sheds light on another aspect of what makes grief and mourning so difficult. At least in Western society, people are often uncomfortable around other people’s grief and don’t know how to address it. Here, Makani feels self-conscious for complaining about her own parents in front of Ollie, who lost his parents somewhat recently. Makani sees Ollie’s grief as an elephant in the room that she must avoid, lest she misstep and offend Ollie in some way. Her inability to talk about grief creates distance between herself and Ollie.
For a week, Makani thinks of nothing but Ollie. She begs Grandma Young to let her go shopping on her own so she might run into him again. To Makani’s delight, Grandma Young agrees. When Makani arrives at the store, she sees Ollie in the alley, licking a popsicle, and she knows that he’s been waiting for her. She walks over and stands close to him. He offers her the popsicle, but she leans in for a kiss instead. From then on, she and Ollie make out in the alley every Wednesday. When it rains a few weeks later, they move things to the backseat of Grandma Young’s car, and things progress from there.
Makani and Ollie are clearly into each other, yet they limit their relationship to the discrete confines of the alley behind Greeley’s or the backseat of Grandma Young’s car. It’s unclear why this is so. Does Makani feel ashamed to associate with a loner like Ollie? Or has her traumatic so -called “incident” in Hawaii left her especially cautious about letting lots of people know about her personal life, for fear of facing their judgment and ridicule?
On the fifth Wednesday, Ollie and Makani drive to the middle of a cornfield and have sex. Darby asks Makani if she’s ever going to make things official with Ollie. The fling ends the next week, when the fall semester begins. When they see each other at school, their eyes meet, but Ollie’s expression is blank. Ollie’s rejection humiliates Makani. She wonders if he doesn’t want to talk to her anymore because he found out about “the incident.” Since then, they haven’t spoken to each other.
Makani’s associations with cornfields shift based on her mood. Under normal circumstances, cornfields are a reminder of the dull, stifling atmosphere of Osborne. Yet here, the cornfield resonates with this happy, exciting exercise in new, young love. The shifting association with cornfields suggests that external elements like objects and place have little significance on their own—it’s a person’s inner state and perspective that gives them meaning.
Back in the present, Makani continues to check her phone for messages, though she knows there won’t be any. The 5:00 news begins, and Creston Howard announces the tragic, brutal murder of Haley Madison Whitehall. The news coverage includes footage of Haley’s shocked, grieving family, and of Haley performing the role of Peter Pan in last year’s musical.
There’s something unfeeling and exploitative about the way the news showcases the private details of Haley’s life in the aftermath of her murder. The news coverage is harmful much in the way that gossip is harmful: both prioritize sensationalized content and entertainment over truthful, effective communication.