Chapters 24–46


Chapter 24: Astronaut Ice Cream

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.

Chapter 25: Everything’s a Risk 

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.

Chapter 26: Fifteen Minutes Later

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.

Chapter 27: Two Hours Later

Maddy raises the issue again. “Are you crazy?” Carla asks.

Chapter 28: Ten Minutes After That

Carla firmly says No.

Chapter 29: Later Still

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.

Chapter 30: To Those Who Wait

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.

Chapter 31: Future Perfect

Before going downstairs, Maddy emails Olly to say that by the time he reads the email, the visit will have been perfect.

Chapter 32: Olly

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.

Chapter 33: Diagnosis

Maddy believes she has “hysterical abdominal rhopalocera”: monarch butterflies in the stomach, after contact with a romantic interest.

Chapter 34: Perspectives

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.

Chapter 35: Wonderland

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.

Chapter 36: Life Is ShortTM

Beware, or the Queen of Hearts will have your head.

Chapter 37: Makes You Stronger

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. 

Chapter 38: No Yes Maybe

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.

Chapter 39: Time

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.

Chapter 40: Mirror, Mirror

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.

Chapter 41: Forecast

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.

Chapter 42: Madeline’s Dictionary

An obsession is an acute interest in something (or someone) acutely interesting.

Chapter 43: Secrets

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.

Chapter 44: Thank You for Shopping

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. 

Chapter 45: Numerology

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.

Chapter 46: Olly Says

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.

Analysis Chapters 24–46

Maddy’s isolation allows her to maintain an unrealistically perfect vision of how things may be in the real world. She loves architecture for this reason, as she can create imaginary worlds that she may fit into if she was able to experience life. In every diorama she creates, Maddy includes an astronaut, a symbol of her situation. Astronauts float above the earth observing life below, but they cannot be intimately involved because of physical distance and the barrier their suits impose. This concept parallels Olly’s habit of climbing above a situation to observe it as a spectator. The astronaut in the diner is surrounded by delicious food, but he cannot eat any of it because he is wearing an airtight helmet. Maddy is the astronaut in all of her dioramas, hidden, hardly noticed, and never expecting to be able to indulge in things that please normal people. As observers of their lives, both Maddy and Olly have found a temporary way to emotionally remove themselves from reality.

After Maddy has the realization that living behind glass is not living, she is emboldened to try and meet Olly in person. Maddy orchestrates a visit with Olly by using the knowledge she has of Carla’s strained relationship with Rosa. While Maddy’s act isn’t malicious in intent, her willingness to manipulate Carla demonstrates how motivated she’s become. Carla’s envy of Maddy’s close relationship with her mother drives Carla to give her a life she knows Maddy’s mother would never allow. Carla feels her bond with Rosa weakening, and the attention that Maddy now gives her entices her to accept the risk by empowering Maddy to deviate from routine. When Carla states that everything is a risk, she is not only referring to the risk posed by Maddy meeting Olly in person but also the potential consequences for herself if Maddy’s mother finds out about the breach of the isolation protocol.

In the glass sunroom, Maddy and Olly continue to expose their vulnerabilities. Maddy’s observation that everything is fake and that she is like a fish in an aquarium sums up her entire existence. Glass holds Maddy in at her bedroom window, in the sunroom, and when she imagines herself as the astronaut. Olly first encounters Maddy in person from the safety of being an observer from above. This is in character for Olly, as he again shows his vulnerability by removing himself from a perceived threat or when he feels uncomfortable in his surroundings.

When Maddy realizes her feelings for Olly are being reciprocated, she still envisions herself as the astronaut, looking at the situation through her glass helmet from far above the earth. She translates her figurative isolation to literal isolation when she recognizes that she wants more than she can ever have and attempts to protect herself by pushing Olly away. Olly has been pushed away from those close to him before, and he protects himself by heeding Maddy’s request and not emailing her. Both Olly and Maddy are trapped in their bubble existence in different ways.

Olly relates his human experience to math, while Maddy leans on the arts to make sense of her existence. Maddy and Olly’s conversations explore the nuances of life from these two different perspectives. Olly surmises that people’s behaviors and personalities are the product of the experiences that shape them as they mature, but it only takes one event to derail the harmony that could have been. Philosophically, he is trying to rationalize when and how his life took a turn for the worse and blames himself for not influencing the events enough to change the family dynamic that resulted. Maddy however, accepts that people are unpredictable and that there may not be an existential formula that dictates how we turn out. Despite their differences, Maddy and Olly are very much aligned, having experienced the same kind of isolation catalyzed by one critical incident in their earlier years.