“Can you make yourself love? Can you make yourself be loved?”—Lena Kaligaris
Lena’s grandparents’ house is painted blue with a yellow front door. Lena and Effie are dazed and irritable from jetlag. Grandma’s English is good, but Grandpa’s is nonexistent. Lena doesn’t speak Greek, but she wishes she did. Her bedroom has a beautiful view of the Caldera. Lena barely knows her grandparents, but the view makes her feel at home.
Tibby goes through orientation at Wallman’s and meets her boss, Duncan Howe. She finds the whole thing ridiculous but also valuable material for her documentary, which she calls a “suckumentary.” She meets a saleswoman with long fingernails, then tries to set up a deodorant display. She can’t figure out the cardboard pyramid, so she borrows some tape from the store. At the end of her shift, the door alarm beeps her back inside—the store’s tape is still in her pocket. Duncan accuses her of stealing but gives her a second chance.
In a letter to Carmen, Lena says her fantasies about her grandparents don’t match reality. She admits she doesn’t yet love them.
“There is no such thing as fun for the whole family.”—Jerry Seinfeld
Lena tries to paint the sunset, but she can’t capture it exactly. Her grandparents cook an elaborate meal, and Lena decides to wear the Pants to dinner. Effie helps Grandma cook. Even though Lena is the more beautiful of the two sisters, people always like Effie better, because she’s more extroverted. Grandma tells Lena to put on something nicer, since she’s invited a “nice boy” named Kostos to the party. Lena dreads another set-up.
At the airport, Carmen’s father, Albert, gives her a huge hug. Albert asks after her mother, but he isn’t really interested. They retrieve Carmen’s luggage. In the car, Carmen tells Albert about her grades in school and about her tennis lessons. He promises her they’ll play. She notices that Albert looks different—more put together. They pull up in front of a large house, and Albert reveals that he moved out of his apartment a month ago and that a lot has changed. Inside, Carmen meets a woman named Lydia, a teenage girl named Krista, and an eighteen-year-old boy named Paul. Albert introduces them as his fiancée and future stepchildren. Carmen, reeling, follows Albert to the guest room. She is unable to tell Albert how surprised and angry she is. She writes to Bridget to tell her that the “summer of Carmen and Al” is much different than she’d planned.
Both Lena and Carmen find themselves in awkward family situations this summer, surrounded by people whom they are expected to love but who, to them, are little more than strangers. Lena has grown up hearing stories about her wonderful grandparents, and she expected to feel an instant bond with the grandmother she’d heard was so beautiful and the grandfather she’d been told was so excellent in business. Her grandparents had taken on superhuman qualities in her imagination. When she is faced with her real grandparents—two ordinary old people—Lena feels little connection. She knows you’re supposed to love your family, but these people don’t feel like family—they feel like strangers. Carmen struggles with a similar problem. However, the new “family” she confronts is actually composed of strangers, a woman and two teenagers she’s never seen or heard about before. Her father loves them, and he also loves Carmen. Albert seems to think that this love can transfer easily so that the whole group will feel connected. In reality, Carmen feels excluded from this new family circle, a stranger even around her father, whom she loves dearly but now cannot understand.
Tibby, with her nose ring and baggy clothes, seems to believe that she can understand people just by looking at them. But when Duncan judges Tibby based on her appearance and accuses her of stealing, she fails to see the error of her own ways. Tibby assumes that her summer is going to be terrible and that she’ll be surrounded by stupid, ridiculous people at Wallman’s. She is so convinced of her fate that she decides to make her “suckumentary” to document the horribleness of her experiences. When she meets Duncan, with his officious, managerial manner and adherence to Wallman’s rules, she immediately judges him to be a worthy star of her film. She never considers that there is more to Duncan than what meets the eye. Similarly, she deems the saleswoman with the long fingernails ridiculous, assuming that the fingernails reveal the woman’s inner self. These quick judgments are Tibby’s habit, but she doesn’t appreciate when this practice is turned on herself. She isn’t trying to steal from Wallman’s; she’d put the tape in her smock pocket accidentally. But Duncan doesn’t look past what he sees: a teenager with a nose ring trying to leave the store without paying for merchandise. The lesson seems clear, but Tibby sees this error as simply more insanity on Duncan’s part.