Madeline Whittier lives in a white room, with white furniture. She reads constantly, from brand-new books that arrive sealed in plastic. The only people she sees are her mother and her nurse. Maddy writes notes in the books, promising various rewards to anyone who finds a book and returns it to her.
The disease that keeps Maddy in her room is called Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID). Essentially, she is allergic to the world. According to her mother, Maddy almost died from the condition as an infant. She has not left her house in seventeen years.
Maddy’s eighteenth birthday celebration is like all the others before it. The nurse has the day off. Maddy and her mother, who is a doctor, eat white cake. They play Phonetic Scrabble, which the mother always wins. (This time, she insists on P O K A L I P S for “apocalypse.”) They finish by watching a movie.
The next day, the nurse, Carla, is back. During her daily check of Maddy’s vital signs, she chuckles over the birthday routine Maddy has with her mother. Carla and her own daughter, Rosa, have grown less close, now that Rosa is old enough to be interested in boys. Maddy is re-reading Flowers for Algernon, a favorite book of hers.
The Algernon in Flowers for Algernon is a mouse. It dies.
Maddy and Carla watch a moving van pull up next door. A new family is moving in. This happened before.
The last time someone moved out, Maddy was very sad. The boy in the family that moved out cried because he did not want to leave. That night, Maddy dreamt that aliens had kidnapped the family, and also her mother and Carla, and she was left all alone.
The new family includes a girl a little younger than Maddy and a tall boy dressed all in black. The boy’s mother calls him Olly. He does a parkour move on the front of the house. When he looks up and sees Maddy, he smiles. Maddy tries to smile back, but her expression comes out as a frown.
Maddy dreams of inflating and deflating as she breathes. The house inflates and deflates with her. She feels ready to burst.
Maddy watches the new family. Every day, the father goes to work, comes home, drinks, and yells at the rest of the family. The mother gardens in the mornings and runs errands in the afternoons. Olly’s sister, Kara, sneaks cigarettes, and texts and talks on her phone all day. Olly’s schedule is unpredictable.
Olly’s second-floor bedroom is almost directly opposite Maddy’s. Sometimes Olly sleeps until noon. Most days, however, he gets up around 9 a.m. and swings himself up onto the roof of his house, where he spends the next hour. His room is sparsely furnished, and he has not finished unpacking.
On Fridays, Carla always stays for a French-themed dinner. Tonight, dinner is interrupted by a knock at the front door. After passing through an air lock, Maddy’s mother opens the door and is greeted by Olly and Kara. They have brought a Bundt cake their mother baked. Maddy’s mother politely declines the gift but does not explain that Maddy’s illness is the reason. When Olly asks if Maddy can give a house tour, her Mother says no. Maddy’s mother is visibly saddened over having to deny Maddy the chance to socialize with the new neighbors. Maddy thinks of the life her mother used to enjoy, when Maddy’s father and brother were alive.
From her bedroom window, Maddy sees the father next door angrily throw the cake at Olly in the driveway. Olly ducks. The cake remains intact. Olly eventually cleans up the broken dish, then spends the next hour on the roof. When he returns to his room, Maddy openly looks at him from her window. Olly closes the blinds.
Maddy mopes. She tells Carla that life was easier before the new neighbors moved in. Carla, who has been Maddy’s nurse for fifteen years, tells her that she is the strongest, bravest person Carla knows, and that she is going to be all right.
The moral of Lord of the Flies is that boys are savages.
Two evenings later, Maddy has stopped moping. Pinging sounds at her window get her attention. Looking over to Olly’s window, she sees the Bundt cake seemingly leap to its death. Olly staged the jump for her amusement.
There are more pings. Maddy ignores them. She does the same the next night.
The cake sits on Olly’s windowsill, half-covered in bandages.
The cake sits on a table in Olly’s room, still “suicidal.” It is posed with pills, cigarettes, and what looks like a glass of poison.
The cake has apparently been hospitalized. Olly examines it with a stethoscope. Maddy has to suppress a smile.
Dressed as a priest, Olly gives the cake the last rites. He grins when Maddy breaks into laughter. With a marker, he writes a note on his window, apologizing for the unpleasant scene a week earlier. He writes his email address.
Maddy and Olly email. She tells him he has nothing to apologize for. They joke about the imagined recipe for the indestructible cake.
For the next week and a half, Maddy and Olly IM with each other once a day, usually after dinner. They learn more about each other. Maddy’s mother is Japanese American, and her father was African American. Olly likes limericks and hates haiku. He was on his high school mathlete team before his father made him quit. Maddy attends school online. Maddy refuses to explain why she never leaves the house. Olly refuses to explain why his dad has been losing his temper.
Mr. Waterman, Maddy’s architecture teacher, arrives for a rare visit. After an hour-long decontamination procedure, he inspects a model she has built. Her models always include an astronaut figure, who this time is a diner patron. Mr. Waterman notes that the astronaut’s helmet will keep him from eating.
Maddy has been trying to keep her relationship with Olly a secret from Carla. After Carla catches Maddy checking her email, Carla reveals that she has known for some time what is going on. Maddy does not want Carla to worry about Maddy’s getting hurt.
Maddy surprises herself by asking whether Olly could come over for a visit. Carla jokes about teenagers who take a mile when given an inch. She does not even bother to say no.
Maddy raises the issue again. “Are you crazy?” Carla asks.
Carla firmly says No.
Maddy persists. Carla still says No. She expresses disappointment when Maddy suggests that they would not tell her mother. But Carla is starting to waver.
Two days later, Carla tells Maddy to get herself ready to spend twenty minutes in the sunroom with Olly. He is already there, decontaminated and waiting. Maddy nervously tries out facial expressions in the mirror. She worries aloud that a visit is too risky. Everything’s a risk, Carla replies.
Before going downstairs, Maddy emails Olly to say that by the time he reads the email, the visit will have been perfect.
The sunroom, full of fake plants, is always kept at a tropical temperature. When Maddy walks in, she finds Olly climbing the decorative rockwork on a back wall. They joke awkwardly. He occasionally snaps a black rubber band he wears on his wrist. When Maddy says she wishes she could visit the beach, Olly describes the experience of ocean swimming. To Maddy’s amusement, he focuses on all the dangers. Olly demonstrates a perfect one-armed handstand. Carla ends their time together, after getting Olly’s assurance that there was no touching.
Maddy believes she has “hysterical abdominal rhopalocera”: monarch butterflies in the stomach, after contact with a romantic interest.
The next morning, Carla tells Maddy she is only lovesick, not actually sick. When Maddy protests that being in love would be pointless, Carla replies that doomed love is part of life. Maddy admits to herself that if she is not in love, she is at least in like. She imagines Olly spending time at her house. She imagines herself as an astronaut, floating at the edge of space and able to view the world and eternity, all at once.
To protect herself from hurt, Maddy emails Olly to say she will be busy with schoolwork over the weekend. Then she puts her computer away and curls up with Alice in Wonderland.
Beware, or the Queen of Hearts will have your head.
When Maddy finally checks her email again, Olly has not written her. Carla tells Maddy she is crazy, telling a boy not to email and then being upset when he doesn’t.
On Monday night, Maddy and Olly IM. She admits that fear was her reason for asking him not to email. They agree to be friends.
Carla will let Olly visit again, but only after a full week has passed, to confirm that Olly’s presence does not trigger Maddy’s allergy.
The day of Olly’s visit, Maddy tries on different outfits beforehand. She wishes she could talk to her mother about Olly, but she tells herself there is no harm in keeping the relationship a secret. As Carla says, love can’t kill her.
The second sunroom visit is less awkward. It begins with some teasing about clothing choices. Maddy then explains where the money to pay for the air filtration system came from. A trucker caused an accident that killed her father and brother. The trucking company paid Maddy’s mother a large financial settlement. After expressing his sympathy for Maddy’s loss, Olly reflects soberly on the complexity of life. We may wish that our lives were different, he says, but a person is like a formula in which slightly different inputs can produce radically different outputs. Maddy responds that for anyone who reads books, the fact that people are unpredictable is not news. To herself, however, she predicts that she is going to fall in love with Olly. She predicts disaster.
An obsession is an acute interest in something (or someone) acutely interesting.
Due to late-night IM sessions with Olly, Maddy starts falling asleep during movie nights. She reassures her mother that the problem is just lack of sleep. However, Maddy worries that keeping a secret is causing her and her mother to drift apart, emotionally.
Tired of wearing nothing but white T-shirts, Maddy uses her mother’s credit card to spend over $200 on shirts in a rainbow of colors, and also on bright blue shoes.
Maddy records that Olly’s father yelled at his wife about an overcooked roast, at Kara about her black nail polish, and at the family in general about someone drinking his whiskey. At 3 A.M., Maddy is IMing with Olly, trying to cheer him up. She suspects that the father has been hitting the mother. Maddy gets no sleep.
The next day is another sunroom visit. Olly admits he sometimes daydreams about leaving his family. Maddy wishes she could hug him. Olly says that his dad was not always the way he is now.
Olly’s father was once a kinder, happier man. He began drinking after he was fired from work, over accusations of fraud. If he had not gotten fired, Olly thinks, things might have turned out very differently. A random event in the past has made a huge difference in the present.
Maddy is watching Mission: Impossible, a movie about a man who leads multiple lives at once. Carla chides her for canceling movie night with her mother the night before, when Maddy could not wait to start IMing with Olly. Carla threatens to end the sunroom visits. Olly, she says, will soon be going back to school and will find another girl, but Maddy is all her mother has.
Maddy applies for a credit card of her own.
During a sunroom visit, Maddy tries to learn the upside-down handstand. After more than an hour of trying, she succeeds. When she begins to fall backwards, Olly grabs her ankles to steady her. After she stands back up, they hold hands and speak softly to each other, until they hear Carla approaching.
Maddy reflects that the skin cells in her hands will soon have no memory of touching Olly’s hands, but the cells in Maddy’s brain will remember.
That night, during IMing, Maddy is feeling a little giddy, but she thinks she is OK. Olly suggests that really good friends can not only hold hands but also kiss.
Maddy puts off the next sunroom visit, worried that she might have a reaction after the last one. However, Carla’s charts reveal no changes in Maddy’s condition. Maddy puts together a “kissing primer” with a checklist, a list of mood-enhancers, and a review of kiss mechanics.
For the next sunroom visit, Maddy wears one of her new T-shirts. It is orange. She and Olly kiss. Just like that, Maddy thinks, everything changes.
That evening, Maddy and Olly IM. Maddy canceled movie night with her mother again. Olly expresses concern, but they are both glad they kissed.
Maddy and her mother are playing Phonetic Scrabble. When they hear an altercation next door, they rush to the window. Olly and his father, who is drunk, are fighting on their porch. When the father punches Olly in the stomach, Maddy rushes outside, without thinking, and runs over to protect Olly. Her surprising arrival stops the fight. Olly is winded but starting to recover. Maddy’s mother, hysterical, pulls her back into their house. Maddy is shocked that she went outside. Her mother is shocked that she would risk her life for a stranger, but then she realizes: Olly is no stranger.
Maddy’s mother comes into Maddy’s bedroom. She sits on the bed, but Maddy pretends to be asleep. Her mother then leaves a black rubber band on the nightstand, as proof that she knows Olly has been visiting.
Maddy’s mother fires Carla. Maddy gives Carla Flowers for Algernon as a goodbye gift. “Be brave,” Carla tells Maddy. “Life is a gift.”
An asymptote is a wish that approaches fulfillment but never achieves it.
Olly writes on his bedroom window with marker, and Maddy responds with nods and headshakes. Her Internet access has been taken away indefinitely. They assure each other that they are both OK. She tells him not to be sorry.
Maddy’s mother hires a new nurse.
Over games, Maddy and her mother start to reconnect. They both miss Carla, but Maddy’s mother is sure of her decision. Maddy’s mother listens appreciatively as Maddy talks about Olly but tells her that loss of contact is better than a broken heart. “Love can’t kill me,” Maddy says. “That’s not true,” her mother replies.
Maddy is allowed back on the Internet, but only until 3:00 p.m., when the new nurse, Nurse Janet, turns off the router. In Maddy’s mind, Nurse Janet is Nurse Evil.
Maddy and Olly go about their separate routines. Olly has started school. They stay in touch by IMing and by gesturing to one another from their windows.
Olly IMs Maddy with details about high school, but she misses their times together in person, talking and kissing. One day, she sees him pull into his driveway with Kara and another girl in the car with him. The Mystery Girl laughs and puts her hand on Olly’s shoulder. He looks up uneasily at Maddy’s window and waves, but Maddy has ducked out of sight.
Maddy has once again canceled a mother-daughter night. Her mother comes to her bedroom to check on her, but also to bring a gift that she hopes will cheer Maddy up. It is a framed photo of their family—Maddy’s handsome father and happy mother, and four-month-old Maddy and her brother. The photo was taken on a beach on the Hawaiian island of Maui, just one month before Maddy’s father and brother died.
Olly writes on his window to explain that the Mystery Girl is his lab partner. Maddy pantomimes her lack of jealousy.
Books, Maddy observes, unfold differently if read backwards. Her life, however, has always been like a palindrome: the same in one direction as the other. Olly has changed everything. She does not know how to go back to being The Girl Who Reads.
At 3 in the morning, Maddy is awakened by a door slamming in Olly’s house. Maddy sees Olly stumble onto the front porch and prepare for a fight that does not come. His mother tries unsuccessfully to comfort him. After she goes back inside, Olly looks up toward Maddy’s window but does not see her waving back, in the dark.
Alone in the sunroom, Maddy sees floating particles of dust glow in the light of the late-afternoon sun, like thousands of tiny worlds.
Maddy imagines what it would be like to attend high school normally, with Olly. She realizes that there are two of her. One Maddy reads books and wants to stay alive. The other Maddy is tired of living half a life. She is ready to risk death in order to live fully.
Maddy writes her mother a good-bye letter. She explains that she loves her mother and is grateful to be alive because of her mother’s care. But now she is going to embrace life even if it means death—like the Little Prince in the children’s book, ready to die in order to be with his rose.
Maddy hears the keypad beep as she unseals the airlock door, she feels the cool touch of the front-door handle, she sees fuzzy shapes in the 4 a.m. darkness outside, and she smells the garden in front of Olly’s house. After she throws pebbles at his window and he comes out to be with her, his lips taste just like she remembers from the last time they kissed.
Olly is alarmed to see Maddy outside, acting unconcerned about her safety. After they hear a noise in the house and climb up onto the roof, Maddy puts Olly more at ease by lying about having secretly bought some non-FDA-approved pills online. They will protect her for a few days. He believes the lie because he wants to. Olly then shows Maddy what he has been doing on the roof: he has built an orrery, a mechanical solar system that moves when the wind blows on it.
Maddy has booked a flight for Madeline Whittier and Oliver Bright, from Los Angeles to Maui.
Olly has a hard time believing that Maddy is serious about flying to Hawaii, but once Maddy persuades him to get on the road, he starts to relax. He has a friend on Maui, named Zach. Maddy finds the experience of driving on the freeway strange. They have enough time before the flight leaves to stop to visit someone in Koreatown.
The person they are visiting is Carla. She is overjoyed to see Maddy and greets Olly with almost equal enthusiasm. Carla has a new job. When she asks how Maddy is feeling, Maddy tells her the same lie she told Olly, about the non-approved pills. Carla is not fooled. She feeds Maddy and Olly breakfast, while he talks cheerfully about how the pills are apparently working. During cleanup, Carla quietly endorses Maddy’s desire to leave home and live, even at great risk. Carla made the same choice when she came to the United States, against her family’s wishes.
Olly texts Kara that he will be back in two days.
Useful facts for the first-time flyer. Some of them relate to kissing or snuggling with a companion. The last one is about turbulence, a common experience in life generally.
At the Maui airport, Olly shares his baggage carousel theory of life: some people get lost; some people get damaged, like his mother; some people just go round and round forever, like him and Karla; and some people are lucky enough to get taken home and put in a closet.
A promise is a lie you want to keep.
During the drive to the hotel, Olly asks the driver to stop, so Maddy can experience the beach. She walks into the water up to her knees.
The ocean is the endless part of yourself, unknown but always suspected.
Maddy and Olly check into their hotel as newlyweds, under the name Whittier. The room is small, with just one bed, a Murphy bed, which folds down from the wall. Olly teases Maddy over having brought The Little Prince along. It contains a note promising the finder a Hawaii trip. Maddy gets dizzy and feels a painful squeezing around her heart, and Olly becomes worried when she says she is feeling light-headed. When Maddy’s stomach growls, however, they laugh and decide she is just very hungry.
Olly buys souvenirs for his mother and Karla. Maddy buys a calendar for Carla. Unsure what to buy her mother, she finally settles on a postcard. “Oh, how I wish you were here,” she writes.
Maddy puts on her swimsuit and wishes she had tried it on at the store. It is revealing enough to make her self-conscious. Olly, however, clearly likes how she looks in it.
Creatures found in Hawaii’s coastal waters include the Maddy and the Olly.
With Maddy wearing a life jacket, she and Olly go snorkeling. They see Hawaii’s state fish, the colorful rectangular triggerfish. Olly coaxes Maddy into jumping into the water from a nearby cliff.
A footfirst jump into the ocean from a thirty-foot cliff involves screaming, water up your nose, and the quiet awareness of being just another small creature in the big, wide world.
Olly’s friend Zach arrives. Over lunch, Molly learns that Zach is gay and dreams of being a rock star, but has not yet told his parents either of those things. Olly, meanwhile, has used Zach’s phone to check his email. He shows Maddy a series of emails sent from Maddy’s account by her mother. Maddy’s mother has found out where they are and is on her way. While Olly visits the bathroom, Maddy emails to tell her mother she is OK. When Zach asks about Maddy’s non-approved pills, she admits there are no pills. Zach agrees not to tell Olly.
Maddy and Olly lie down on the Murphy bed together. Olly is nervous, because he has had other relationships but knows that Maddy has not. He tells her that being in love with her is different. “It feels like the first time and the last time and the only time all at once.” She promises him that she knows her own heart. They fall asleep curled up together.
Waking up an hour later, Maddy and Olly get ready to go sit on the beach. Instead, however, they go back inside. Maddy is prepared: she bought condoms at the souvenir shop. All the words in her head have been replaced by just the word “Olly.” They make love.
To be infinite is to not know where one body ends and another begins.
According to the Big Bang theory, in the beginning there was nothing, and a moment later there was everything.
After a late-night dinner, Maddy and Olly walk on the beach. Olly begins to talk about his family. His father hits his mother, but not often enough to cause her to leave. “He always says he’s sorry, and she always believes him.” Olly is disgusted that his mother puts up with the violence, but Maddy thinks to herself that Olly, too, is trapped by memories of better times.
Maddy sleeps and dreams a spiral-shaped dream of running away from home with Olly, forever.
Maddy wakes up shivering. Her head and her whole body ache. The bedsheets are drenched with sweat. When Olly touches her, he says she is burning up. He phones for an ambulance, then calls Maddy’s mother to tell her of the mergency.
Maddy’s heart stops. Then it starts again.
A Maui Memorial Discharge Form records that Madeline Whittier, age 18, “left against advice.”
Maddy vaguely remembers the ambulance trip, adrenaline shots to restart her heart, a hospital stay, and an airplane flight. She is going home.
Maddy’s mother hovers by Maddy’s bed. “You’re going to be OK,” the mother says, but she also asks, “How could you do this?” Seeing how frightened and exhausted her mother is, Maddy regrets going away with Olly. Love is a terrible thing, and she wants nothing to do with it.
Maddy and Olly IM. He is concerned and attentive and wants to resume the relationship. She does not want to go back to the way things were before. She tells Olly that she lied about the pills. She does not want to be in touch anymore. She logs out.
The lesson of Invisible Man is that you don’t exist if no one can see you.
Maddy dreams of a field of blood-red poppies, with an army of Ollies marching toward her in gas masks. Her time with Olly was wonderful, but she has to let him go, she thinks. She knows her heart, but her heart has changed. The places in it all have new names.
The Land of Broken Dreams is heart-shaped.
The message of The Stranger, Waiting for Godot, and Nausea is that everything is nothing.
Olly has sent Maddy dozens of emails in the past few hours. She deletes them all, unread.
Maddy gains strength and is able to resume her schoolwork. She is concerned for her mother, who is visibly losing weight. Maddy participates in mother-daughter nights and pretends to enjoy them. In reality, she enjoys nothing. She continues deleting Olly’s emails, until they stop coming. Then one night, Maddy’s mother announces that Carla will be coming back. “You’ve learned your lesson the hard way,” she says.
When Carla returns and hugs Maddy, Maddy dissolves into tears. She feels terrible over what she did to her mother, she says. She does not want to talk about Olly, however. She is afraid that if her heart recovers from the hurt, she will use her heart again in the future. She is back to her pre-Olly, palindrome-like life. One day, a moving van arrives next door. Olly, Karla, and their mother hurriedly move belongings out of the house while Olly’s father is away. Olly waves to Maddy. She wishes she could undo the last few months of knowing him. She should have stayed in her white room, reading her brand-new books.
Olly’s father, now living alone, seemingly goes to work already drunk, every day.
A month later, Olly’s father moves out, too. Maddy recovers Olly’s emails from the trash folder. She laughs over his limericks. He finally persuaded his mother to leave his father, he writes. If she stayed, Olly told her, he would leave. He also told her about Maddy and how sick she was, and how she had risked everything in order to live.
“five syllables here, and now here are seven more. i love you maddy.”
Not only the future, but even the past is unpredictable, and subject to change by what happens in the present.
Maddy receives an email from Dr. Melissa Francis, who treated Maddy at the Maui hospital. Dr. Francis believes that Maddy does not have SCID and that she contracted a viral infection in her heart muscle, possibly because her immune system has spent too much time isolated from germs. Dr. Francis urges Maddy to get other opinions about the SCID diagnosis, from physicians outside her family.
Maddy thinks there must be some mistake, but she prints out the email and the attached test results. She spends some time online trying to understand what the results mean. Then she brings everything to her mother. Her mother assures her that the SCID is real, but it is a rare condition that someone like Dr. Francis might not understand. Maddy believes her mother and is relieved, until her mother says, “I had to protect you,” not once but twice. Maddy grows quiet and asks for the printouts back. She has started to doubt whether being under her mother’s care is the best thing for her.
A suspicion is the truth you can’t and won’t believe.
When Maddy shares the email and test results with Carla, Carla’s takes them seriously. “We have to find out,” she says. “Give me a day.” Carla has sometimes suspected that losing Maddy’s father and brother caused Maddy’s mother to become “not quite right.” Maddy feels nauseous and strangely light. In her mind, her illness is part of who she is. Still, she wants to know the truth.
Carla has found a SCID specialist who will look at Maddy’s case and run tests on fresh blood samples. In the middle of the night, unwilling to wait for Carla to come back, Maddy searches her mother’s downstairs office. Maddy is looking for medical records documenting her SCID diagnosis and her treatment over the years. She finds old records of visits with three immunologists, all of whom saw no evidence of SCID. Maddy finds little else related to her condition. When Maddy’s mother walks in, Maddy confronts her about the absence of records of Maddy’s SCID treatment. Her mother becomes confused and fearful. Maddy realizes that she is not sick and never has been.
Maddy runs out the front door and feels a strange mix of happiness and despair. Her mother follows her outside and tries to persuade her to come back in. Maddy’s mother blurts out, “I lost your dad and I lost your brother. I couldn’t lose you, too.” Maddy grows angry: “I’ve never been sick. You’re the one.”
There once was a girl whose whole life was a lie.
A universe that can suddenly appear can suddenly disappear.
Maddy’s mother is in a state of confusion and disorientation, but Maddy ignores her. Four days later, Maddy sees Dr. Chase, the SCID specialist. He confirms that she does not have SCID. He agrees with Dr. Francis’s diagnosis of viral myocarditis, which would explain the heart pain Maddy felt at the hotel right after checking in. Dr. Chase warns that because Maddy has had very little exposure to germs, she should proceed slowly as she starts to see the world.
Maddy struggles to understand how her mother could have done what she did. Dr. Chase thinks that Maddy’s mother needs therapy. Maddy considers leaving home, but Carla talks her into staying, telling Maddy she is a better person than that.
Maddy has the first of her weekly follow-up visits with Dr. Chase. She installs a lock on her bedroom door.
Maddy drafts emails to Olly, a new one each day. She wants to apologize, she misses him and wants to know how he is doing, and she wants to explain what has happened with her and her mother.
Maddy continues to draft emails to Olly. She keeps her door locked to keep her mother out. Dr. Chase continues to urge caution.
Maddy paints her room in bright colors. She still will not let her mother in.
Maddy fills the sunroom with real plants and opens the windows. She lets five goldfish, all named Olly, loose in the fountain.
Dr. Chase will not let Maddy enroll in high school but reluctantly agrees to let tutors start visiting in person.
A psychiatrist’s transcript of a session with Maddy’s mother records the mother’s memories of the night her husband and son died. “It’s clear we have some work to do,” the psychiatrist notes.
After a visit from Mr. Waterman, the architecture teacher, Carla tells Maddy what Maddy already knows: Carla will be leaving again. Maddy cries and admits that she is still angry at her mother. “She took my whole life away from me,” Maddy says. “Not your whole life,” Carla answers. “You still have a lot left.”
When Maddy’s mother brings a present to make Maddy feel better, Maddy responds angrily. Her mother says, “I still love you, Madeline. And you still love me. You have your whole life ahead of you. Don’t waste it. Forgive me.”
Maddy unwraps the present: a phone. The weather app predicts sunny skies all week. Maddy goes next door and climbs the ladder onto the roof. Sitting by Olly’s orrery, she thinks how soothing it is to see the world at once and to know how it all fits together. Looking back over her life, she wonders at all the events that have brought her to the present moment. If any of them had been different, she would be different now. She wonders which moment she would change, if she could change just one.
Maddy emails Olly: “By the time you read this you will have forgiven me.”
Maddy books a flight to New York, to visit Olly.
Maddy is on the way to New York. She thinks about how her mother lost two of the three people she loved. “Love makes you crazy,” Maddy thinks. She reflects on the fact that even after she refused to promise her mother that she was coming back, her mother still let her go. That has to count for something, Maddy thinks.
The lesson of The Little Price is that love is worth everything.
Maddy has texted Olly to meet her in a used bookshop and to look for a present in aisle S-U. She arrives a little early to place the present on a shelf. She watches Olly arrive and find the book, her copy of The Little Prince. Inside, the finder’s reward is listed as “Me (Madeline).” When Maddy comes out of hiding, Olly smiles. “Found your book,” he says.