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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.
Olly’s childhood experience shapes how he interacts with Maddy. When his father transformed from a figure of admiration to someone Olly fears, Olly feels somehow responsible. Although Olly’s father tells him that one event does not always lead to another, the change in his father leaves Olly to believe that the decline of the family’s relationship is his fault. This explains Olly’s calculated interactions with Maddy. He accepts that the way he responds in one moment can change everything, and he does not want to lose Maddy by responding in the “wrong” way.
With confidence built as a result of her relationship with Olly, Maddy takes increasingly risky steps to secure a life worth living. She starts to prioritize Olly over her mother. This makes Carla feel uncomfortable because she feels responsible for damaging the bond they had before she interfered. Maddy’s newfound independence from the routines prescribed by her mother escalates as she takes increasingly bold risks. She balances disobedience with caution, testing the waters to see how far she can go. Maddy knows she is unraveling the safety net that has been keeping her alive, but she nonetheless contemplates what it would be like to take the next bold risk.
Maddy’s courage in claiming the life she wants mirrors that of Olly’s, whose own confidence has been building in tandem with his connection with Maddy. Olly stands up to his father to protect his mother. The ensuing fight between Olly and his father marks a climactic point in the story, showing that Olly is emboldened to stand up to his nemesis. It is also when Maddy literally bursts from her bubble and goes outside for the first time, drawn to Olly despite all of the risks to her safety and her relationship with her mother. Carla, despite being fired, encourages Maddy with the advice to continue to be brave because life is a gift. In a role reversal, Olly, whose family is mired in conflict, now finds himself behind glass waiting for Maddy to appear in his closed-in world.
Maddy’s mother’s desperation shows through in these chapters. In explaining to Maddy that Carla was not her friend and that Olly’s love could kill her, she indoctrinates Maddy into believing that her only hope for survival, physically and emotionally, is to stay in the house exclusively with her and her new nurse. The feelings of loss and being alone come full circle when Maddy’s mother shows her a photo of the family vacationing in Hawaii when Maddy was a baby. The photo serves as a constant reminder of the only love that her mother has left – her daughter. Maddy experiences this vacation photo as a betrayal: Not only has she been denied the privilege of living outside since the photo was taken, but she was also denied even the memory of it.