Being Trapped by Circumstances

This year is a little harder than the previous. Maybe it’s because I’m eighteen now. Technically I’m an adult. I should be going off to college. My mom should be dreading empty-nest syndrome. But because of SCID, I’m not going anywhere.

This quotation, which occurs in Chapter 3, Brthdae Uish, comes after Maddy and her mother celebrate Maddy’s birthday by doing all of the activities that make up their annual tradition. The celebration shows us that they are very bonded and share a deep love for each other, both of them conceding to doing things that the other enjoys most. Despite the fun they are having and the outward smiles, there is an overshadowing sadness in the realization that Maddy’s life will never be more than this. Maddy’s wish for world peace, instead of for a cure for her disease, shows the reader that she is resigned to being sick forever and has no hopes of escaping the confines of her circumstances.

After a few seconds he begins bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet. Suddenly he takes off at a sprint and runs literally six feet up the front wall. He grabs a windowsill and dangles from it for a second or two and then drops back down into a crouch.

This quotation, which occurs in Chapter 8, “The Welcome Committee,” is part of our first introduction to Olly from Maddy’s perspective. She notices his physical appearance, but she is also drawn to his physical movements, which seem to defy gravity. We begin to understand the family dynamic in this first observation through the difference in demeanor between his mother vs. his father when his mother encourages him with praise and his father growls at him to stop it. The language used creates the visual of a cat, agile and able to leap from danger in a flash, something that Olly has trained himself to do to escape the blows thrown at him by his father.

Once upon a time there was a girl whose entire life was a lie.

This quotation, which occurs in Chapter 118, “Fairy Tales,” comes after Maddy figures out that she probably does not have SCID. She has been suspicious after she receives a letter from the doctor who treated her in Hawaii; her suspicions are confirmed when she confronts her mother and is met with a plaintive reaction. When Carla states that she sometimes suspects that Maddy’s mother is not quite right, Maddy finds herself turning emotionally upside-down as she tries to make sense of the bombshell she has just uncovered, and the fact that Carla, who has always told Maddy the truth, did not share her suspicions sooner. Maddy falls into a depression, rooted in the intense feeling of betrayal by her mother. This is particularly hard for Maddy to reconcile, given the close bond they have shared as the cornerstone in each other’s lives. Maddy only finds release from her emotional prison when she can reconcile why her mother lied to her and finds forgiveness for her mother.

Being Alive versus Living

I keep picturing myself floating high above the earth. From the edge of space I can see the whole world at once. My eyes don’t have to stop at a wall or at a door. I can see the beginning and the end of time. I can see infinity from there. For the first time in a long time, I want more than I have.

In this quotation, which occurs in Chapter 34, “Perspectives,” Maddy has experienced being in the same room as someone other than a caregiver or tutor for the first time in her life. Maddy is feeling the physical effects of liking someone elicited by her awakened hormones and although she first equates the feeling to being physically sick, she soon realizes that her symptoms are her body telling her brain that she is not satisfied with living an existence of isolation. In the persona of the astronaut, she visualizes herself overlooking the whole world and having the ability to see everything that she has been missing, everything that she has read about in her books and imagined of the outside world.

I reach over and take his hand. “Thank you,” is all I can think to say. I want to tell him that it’s his fault that I’m out here. That love opens you up to the world. I was happy before I met him. But I’m alive now, and those are not the same thing.

This quotation, which occurs in Chapter 76, “Happy Already,” comes after Maddy and Olly have escaped their situations and run away. Maddy was content in her life with her mother and resigned to living in isolation, but once she met Olly she was no longer fulfilled. Out in the world, Maddy notices every fine detail of mundane things that most people would not even notice in their surroundings. She describes the sounds, the colors, and the physical feelings that she has as a passenger in a moving car. Maddy connects her feelings and observations at that moment to the motif of watching life from above, as she sees all of the real things around her as her dioramas come to life.

They tried to stop me. They said it wasn’t worth my life, but I said that it was my life, and it was up to me to decide what it was worth. I said I was going to go and either I was going to die or I was going to get a better life.

This quotation, which occurs in Chapter 77, “Infected,” is delivered by Carla, providing clarity to her motivations in encouraging Maddy to really live. Throughout the book, Carla challenges Maddy with direct feedback and constructive advice for her to reflect upon. We have seen that Carla does not coddle Maddy and shows her the respect of a mentor who truly wants to help someone grow. Carla has allowed rules to be broken, but in her experience of fleeing her home country and starting life anew, she has direct proof that if you take a dangerous risk, the reward is likely worth it.

The Foolishness of Love

I wish again that I could talk to my mom about this. I want to ask her why I get breathless when I think of him. I want to share my giddiness with her. I want to tell her all the funny things Olly says. I want to tell her how I can’t make myself stop thinking of him even though I try.

In this quotation, which occurs in Chapter 40, “Mirror, Mirror,” Maddy is preparing for her next visit with Olly. She is stressing about every detail and second-guessing every decision she is making about how she looks and what she should wear. Her behavior is frenetic, almost panicked. We see the building strain in her relationship with her mother when she wishes that she could talk to her about Olly, but more striking is the description of her physical feelings caused by thinking about him. The growing obsession that she has for him corresponds with our familiar definition of Maddy being “crazy” about Olly.

I’ll have to think of all the hope I had. Of how I fooled myself into thinking that I was a miracle. Of how the world I wanted to be a part of so badly didn’t want me back. I have to let Olly go. I’ve learned my lesson. Love can kill you and I’d rather be alive than out there living.

This quotation, which occurs in Chapter 102, “Geography,” comes after Maddy’s near-death experience and her renewed isolation in her bubble. Maddy, under the influence of her mother, who keeps her heavily medicated and reinforces Maddy’s guilt, becomes indoctrinated to believe that the love that she has felt for Olly and her desire to be loved has caused her to be sick and her mother to despair. The love that she has for her mother overrides her love for Olly at this moment as Maddy chooses to believe that love is a terrible thing and she does not want anything to do with it. Maddy’s back and forth perspective on the joys and heartbreak of love shows us that this emotion is truly complicated and it can make you question everything, and make irrational decisions.

Love. Love makes people crazy. Loss of love makes people crazy. My mother loved my father. He was the love of her life. And she loved my brother. He was the love of her life. And she loves me. I am the love of her life.

This quotation, which occurs in Chapter 134, “Forgiveness,” is the culmination of Maddy’s realization that love is everything. Relating the concept of love to the symbolism of the universe being in control of every moment in our lives, Maddy equates her mother’s loss of her husband and son to the Big Bang theory in reverse, when everything becomes nothing. Maddy sees that without her in her mother’s life her mother truly believed she would have nothing, which allows Maddy to find forgiveness in the fact that her mother lied to her and took away everything.