Chapters 12–23


Chapter 12: Menteuse

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.

Chapter 13: Pièce de Rejection

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.

Chapter 14: Survival

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.

Chapter 15: Life Is ShortTM

The moral of Lord of the Flies is that boys are savages.

Chapter 16: First Contact

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.

Chapter 17: Night Two

There are more pings. Maddy ignores them. She does the same the next night.

Chapter 18: Night Four

The cake sits on Olly’s windowsill, half-covered in bandages.

Chapter 19: Night Five

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. 

Chapter 20: Night Six

The cake has apparently been hospitalized. Olly examines it with a stethoscope. Maddy has to suppress a smile.

Chapter 21: Night Seven

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.

Chapter 22: First Contact, Part Two

Maddy and Olly email. She tells him he has nothing to apologize for. They joke about the imagined recipe for the indestructible cake. 

Chapter 23: First Contact, Part Three

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.

Analysis: Chapters 12–23

Maddy’s mother is obsessed with Maddy’s health and does everything she can to ensure Maddy remains isolated from any potential threat. Maddy attributes her mother’s overprotective and borderline rude behavior to the guilt and regret of being unable to give Maddy a normal life. By not explaining her situation to the visitors who are interested in meeting her, Maddy’s mother invalidates Maddy as a human being and keeps Maddy all to herself.

Olly’s complicated family situation parallels that of Maddy’s. When Olly and his sister arrive at Maddy’s house with a Bundt cake, his remark that his mother insists on delivering a cake whenever they move reveals Olly’s family has a history of relocating. The traditional gesture of bringing baked goods to a new neighbor shows Olly’s mother’s attempt to appear as the matriarch of an idyllic family; however, the fact that she does not deliver the cake herself suggests she has something to hide and that the family dynamic is not as it seems.

After Maddy’s mother refuses the Bundt cake, Maddy tries to connect with Olly. However, Olly has learned to build a protective shell around him. He uses parkour as a means to physically distance himself from stressful situations. He has also learned to show no emotion when feeling rejected, first by his father and then by Maddy. Olly has numbed himself to the chaotic and unpredictable reality of life, which sharply contrasts with the rigidly structured life that Maddy lives. Maddy draws a parallel between the behavior of the boys in the book she is reading and the rejection from Olly, and she wishes that everything could return to the way it was before Olly moved in.

Maddy realizes that there is more to life than what she experiences. Though her inclination to give up and wish nothing ever changed shows that Maddy can be defeatist, she also displays maturity in trying to psychologically adapt to her reality. When mysterious Olly arrives on the scene, Maddy’s routine is upended. Maddy rationalizes that if she had not been introduced to the prospect of something more, she could accept her life and predicament with greater ease. The flip-flopping in Maddy’s feelings is that of any teenager her age, despite her extraordinary circumstance. Carla admires Maddy, telling her that she is strong and brave and that she wishes her daughter, Rosa, was more like Maddy. This admission is tragic given how Rosa is a healthy teenager behaving as teenagers do, and Maddy is chronically ill, living an altogether stifled life.

Olly uses the cake as a metaphor for his waning happiness. He gets Maddy’s attention at the window and, under the guise of comedy, creates a narrative of despair and hopelessness using the indestructible Bundt cake as his subject. The cake, wearing various costumes and adornments, makes a couple of suicide attempts, only to be twice nursed back to health before it finally succumbs. Olly feels trapped in a family mired in anger and abuse, but he has not been destroyed by it. The fact that the cake perishes in the end foreshadows how Olly sees his future. His resilience and coping mechanisms protect and help him to feel buffered from his reality, but the fate of the cake shows that everything has a breaking point.

Olly’s invitation to email Maddy opens the door for him to get the support he needs from her and provides Maddy with an opportunity at life beyond the confines of her bubble. Once Maddy and Olly start communicating, they quickly begin to share personal thoughts and feelings. Both Maddy and Olly show a degree of vulnerability, and they develop mutual feelings of interest for each other, driven by their unspoken shared experience of feeling very much alone and trapped. When Maddy trusts Olly enough to share that she is very sick, Olly is compassionate and promises not to feel sorry for her. It is a reflection of how he wishes to be treated when people know the truth about his family situation.