She squinted, wishing for a break in the clouds. She wanted to see the ocean. She wanted to figure out which way was north. She wanted the big picture before she landed.
This quotation appears in chapter 2, as Carmen flies to South Carolina and anticipates her summer with her father. She has looked forward to this summer for ages, and her excitement is immeasurable. She sees her father a few times a year, but this is the first time she’s visiting him—the first time she’ll see his apartment, how he lives, what he’s like in his own environment. As the plane lands, she imagines how wonderful it will be, just the two of them, and fantasizes about her father asking her to move to South Carolina. Carmen isn’t afraid of the unknown—she is, after all, jetting off to an unknown place to see her father in a home she’s never visited before. However, she doesn’t like surprises; she likes to know how things are going to work out. As she looks out the plane window, her desire to orient herself physically—to “figure out which way was north”—represents her desire to know the direction her summer and her relationship with her father will take. The final sentence of this quotation reveals Carmen’s desire to know the beginning, middle, and end of something so she can avoid being taken by surprise. She wants the “big picture” of South Carolina, since she’s never been there before, but she also wants the “big picture” of her life in general. She wants to know where she belongs, what will happen this summer, and how everything will play itself out.
“Is it possible it’s not the worst thing in the world?” she asked, looking down. “I mean, compared to the really bad things?”
Tibby poses these questions to Carmen at the end of chapter 16, after Carmen has fled from South Carolina and tells Tibby how much she hates her father’s new family and that he’s getting married. Carmen has spent the past few weeks fighting the bad turn her summer has taken. She is angry at her father for not telling her he’s changed his life and for being left out of the new family picture, and she has expressed these feelings by throwing a rock through Lydia’s kitchen window. Carmen tells Tibby how much she hates the new family, assuming Tibby will take her side and condemn the family as she has. However, Tibby has gained a new perspective this summer, and a new propensity toward compassion. Whereas she once judged people without thinking twice about it, she is now unable to be irrationally hateful and angry for Carmen’s sake. Though she loves Carmen, she can’t see Carmen’s problems in the dramatic light in which Carmen presents them. Instead, Tibby sees a healthy girl with her whole life ahead of her acting irrationally. Tibby’s friendship with Bailey, who is going to die very soon, has shown her that some things just aren’t important enough to get upset over. She’s learned that there are bigger problems, real problems, including loneliness, sickness, and death.
Whether he spoke the truth or not, he thought he could make her feel better, and he really, really wanted to.
But it wasn’t what she needed. Her need was as big as the stars, and he was down there on the beach, so quiet she could hardly hear him.
After Bridget and Eric have an intense physical encounter that leaves Bridget confused and sad, Eric tries to comfort her. However, as we see from this quotation at the end of chapter 22, his words don’t help Bridget at all. Bridget, who has been unstoppable and energetic all summer, is laid low by her confusing experience with Eric. She had pursued him relentlessly, only encouraged by his resistance and refusals. When he finally gives in to her, she is suddenly left with a perplexing jumble of feelings, and she feels alone and scared. Eric isn’t a bad guy, and he does his best to say the right things, to make Bridget feel good about herself and to ease the pain he’s causing her by yielding to the age difference between them. What he says is kind, and Bridget recognizes how desperately he wants to soothe her. However, she is unable to be soothed. Bridget has high highs but also very low lows, and she is in an unreachable place right now. What she needs as far as comfort or help goes is “as big as the stars,” far beyond what Eric’s words can deliver. For all his good intentions, his words have absolutely no effect. This quotation shows the depth of Bridget’s emotions, and the scary consequences she faces for pushing herself far beyond her comfort zone.
They gave her courage. The Pants mysteriously held the attributes of her three best friends, and luckily bravery was one of them. She would give the Pants what meager gifts she had, but courage was the thing she would take.
This quotation, from chapter 23, appears just before Lena confronts Kostos and tells him how she feels about him. Until this point, Lena has been quiet, contemplative, and withdrawn, preferring to watch the world from a distance rather than engage with it directly. She considers herself a fearful person, too scared of getting hurt or rejected to open herself up to other people. When she imagines her friends, she admires their ability to see the world differently than she does. In the Pants, she feels as though some of her friend’s qualities are rubbing off on her. Bridget, in particular, is someone Lena considers to be brave, and she feels this bravery seeping in to her through the Pants. The girls all rely on the Pants for courage in some way, and this is Lena’s moment to rely on the Pants as she usually relies on her friends.
The “meager gifts” Lena believes she’s offering the Pants—and, by extension, her friends—are not as meager as Lena thinks. Although Lena lacks Bridget’s extroversion, Tibby’s honesty and forthrightness, and Carmen’s demonstrative devotion, Lena offers introspection, reflection, an artistic worldview, and her own kind of bravery to the Pants. The other girls are not afraid to fall in love, even when it means getting hurt. Lena’s gift is her belief in the importance of love, which she likely understands more than any other girl because she has been so long without it and she understands how blessed people are who have it. Lena pursues love despite her terror, pushing herself out of her shyness to take a chance on happiness.
Maybe, she thought as she walked, Brian McBrian was onto something important. Maybe happiness didn’t have to be about the big, sweeping circumstances, about having everything in your life in place. Maybe it was about stringing together a bunch of small pleasures.
This quotation, from chapter 24, demonstrates how much Tibby has changed this summer, particularly in her newfound openness to learning things from unexpected people. Before Tibby met Bailey, she thought she had her worldview all sorted out. There were lots of losers in the world, and it was her duty to hold them up for ridicule. Tibby offered judgments liberally, certain that she was in a position to look down on those around her. Bailey, however, shows her how wrong she is to assume that other people have nothing valuable to offer her. Bailey befriends people quickly and easily, warming to people in a way that Tibby finds confusing. She teaches Tibby how to live in a way that is accepting and compassionate. Tibby’s whole world is turned upside down by Bailey. Before, she thought she had all the answers. Now, she knows she has a lot to learn and that important lessons can come from unlikely sources. Brian McBrian, who Tibby had pegged as a pathetic loser because he loves video games, winds up offering Tibby a kind of wisdom. Tibby had thought happiness depended on big things, but Brian, who is so happy whenever he gets to a new level of the game, shows her that small things can lead to happiness too. Tibby’s new perspective helps her slow down and enjoy life, with a greater understanding of what’s truly important.