Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Being Trapped by Circumstances
Maddy’s condition causes her to be confined to a sterile environment, literally trapped in her house and unable to be exposed to the outside world. At the beginning of the story, Maddy’s feelings of being trapped are explored through her interest in the imaginary world she finds in books and in building dioramas. When Maddy bursts out of the house and later runs away, she is breaking free from being physically trapped. When she learns more about her condition, it spirals her into a state of emotional entrapment, caught between intense anger toward her mother and her profound love for her as well. It is only when Maddy finds a way to forgive that she can break free completely.
Olly is trapped within an abusive family dynamic. His physical entrapment is evident in the fact that he chooses not to leave his mother and sister alone with his father. His interest in practicing parkour, climbing up walls, and being unpredictably agile in his movements shows his feeling of confinement, like an animal that is always ready to leap to safety. Furthermore, Olly’s secret hobby of building a model of the universe that he ruminates over shows us that he dreams of escape just as Maddy does.
Being Alive versus Living
At the beginning of the story, we learn about Maddy’s strict routines that keep her healthy and alive. The theme of physical life vs. death continues with Maddy and Olly’s first encounter through their windows when Olly pantomimes the death of the Bundt cake. As Maddy and Olly get to know each other and eventually meet in person, Maddy experiences physical feelings that she has never felt before. Maddy analyses these unfamiliar feelings by visualizing herself hovering over the situation as an astronaut, observing her life, and realizing that she wants more than she has.
There are several moments in the buildup to Maddy fully realizing that she must risk everything to feel alive. Seeing the photo of her family in Hawaii crystallizes thoughts of there being an entire world outside and she quickly realizes that her isolated life is not allowing her to live. She also acknowledges that although she used to be happy with her life, she is now alive and those are not the same thing. When Carla recounts the story of her escape from Mexico, we see the parallel between Carla’s experience and Maddy’s, and we understand Carla’s motivation in allowing and encouraging Maddy throughout the story to take risks that will give her a full life, even if it causes some regret.
The Foolishness of Love
The love that Maddy is developing for Olly in the early stages of their relationship is adolescent. There is excitement and anxiety when Olly is around because he makes Maddy feel exposed and seen in a way she has never been before. The love deepens and becomes more mature when Maddy fully understands Olly’s history and feels a profound empathy for him. She can relate to his feelings of isolation and entrapment which builds a strong connection between them. Carla, as Maddy’s compass, tells her that love can’t kill her, while Maddy’s distraction and diary entries show us that she is completely preoccupied with Olly and thinks of nothing else. Maddy’s love for Olly is making her crazy. In this sense, the word “crazy” is used colloquially to show that Maddy is fanatical, or obsessed.
After Maddy’s near-death experience, when she is back at home and once again isolated, she reflects on the risk that she took and how it has affected her mother. Her remorse for her actions prompts her to decide that love can kill you and she decides to cut Olly out of her life as a method of self-preservation. The love that Maddy has for her mother is tested when she discovers that she has been lied to for her whole life. Maddy is angry and shuts her mother out, convincing herself that she can never forgive her. Once Maddy considers what her mother has endured, and that her mother cloistered her out of profound fear of losing the only thing she has left, Maddy understands her mother’s motivation and can forgive her. Maddy concludes that love, and the loss of love, can make you crazy. Although the word “crazy” is an outdated term used in this context, Maddy employs it to describe her mother’s decline into the mental illness that she is suffering as a result of her trauma.