Chapters 17–20 

Summary: Chapter 17

Katherine relates that Jamie has fallen in love with David, a boy in her math class, and that Jamie will be going back to summer camp in New Hampshire. At school, Katherine learns from Erica that Sybil is pregnant and doesn’t know who the father is, but she’s going to have the baby and put it up for adoption because she waited too long to have an abortion. Katherine and Erica agree they would want an abortion. 

College acceptances become the focus. Katherine learns she’s been accepted to a college in Denver, where she decides to go. Michael gets into the University of Vermont, Erica is accepted at Radcliffe, and Sybil to numerous prestigious colleges. Meanwhile, Artie is still waiting to find out more about his acceptances. Katherine tells her parents about the plans she and Michael have made to keep their relationship going in college: Michael will take off every winter semester and teach skiing in Colorado so they can be together all winter, and he’ll make up his credits each summer so he can still graduate on time. Katherine’s parents don’t care for these plans at all.

Summary: Chapter 18

Roger tells Katherine that he has gotten her a seven-week summer job as a tennis instructor at Jamie’s camp in New Hampshire. Katherine wants to spend the summer with Michael, but her parents insist that a change of scenery is a good idea. Knowing that Katherine feels upset, Erica invites her over. Michael and Artie join them for dinner, and they celebrate Michael’s birthday and play Scrabble. Then the couples separate, and Michael and Katherine have sex in a guest room. Afterward, Katherine tells Michael about her summer job, and he confesses that he was offered a summer job in North Carolina. They decide to make the most of the month of June together and start to fool around again but then stop when Michael can’t get an erection. Upset by this, Michael makes a quick exit from Erica’s, leaving with Artie and not even kissing Katherine goodnight. After Michael and Artie leave, Erica tells Katherine that Artie scared her by locking himself in the bathroom and threatening to kill himself. She decides she can’t help him and that their relationship is over.

Summary: Chapter 19

On Michael’s birthday, Katherine learns that Artie attempted suicide by trying to hang himself from a shower curtain rod, but his plan failed when the rod broke. Artie is then taken to a psychiatric hospital. Michael feels bad that he was so wrapped up in his own problems on Saturday night that he didn’t listen to Artie when Artie wanted to talk. Erica also feels responsible because she had told Artie the day before that she didn’t want to see him anymore. The day after Michael’s birthday, Michael and Erica get drunk while Katherine serves as the designated driver. On the way back to Katherine’s house, Michael throws up. Katherine’s parents help sober up Michael and Erica.

Summary: Chapter 20

Katherine skips her afternoon classes and spends the rest of the day in bed with Michael. Feeling bad about Artie and Erica, Michael and Katherine decide not to go to either of their proms. Artie’s parents ask his friends to send him short, upbeat notes at the psychiatric hospital. At home, Katherine’s family celebrates Diana’s fortieth birthday, and Diana worries about how she looks in her new bikini. 

Erica calls with the news that Sybil gave birth to a baby girl two weeks early. Katherine and Erica go to visit Sybil and the baby at the hospital. Sybil claims that childbirth is not hard. She announces that she’s going to lose a lot of weight, attend Smith College in the fall, and get an IUD to prevent future pregnancies. Sybil also talks about her hope that her baby will be named Jennifer and have a good life with her new adoptive parents.

Analysis: Chapters 17–20 

Parental and societal forces, fear, and mental health issues all arise in this section to show how tenuous and fragile relationships can be during the already tumultuous years of adolescence. As life takes Katherine and Michael in different directions, the couple attempts to hold on to the closeness and trust they’ve created, but the upcoming summer separation immediately fosters tension and mistrust between them. Michael’s first-time experience with impotence reveals his emotional turmoil over Katherine. Outside issues also attack Erica and Artie’s relationship. After Erica and Artie break up, unable to cope with his mental health issues, Artie attempts suicide. Artie’s actions are not Michael and Erica’s fault, but they still feel tremendous guilt and pain. An important reason many teen relationships don’t last is that these years are especially fraught with ups, downs, emotions, and identity crises. Relationships are tough to maintain under ideal circumstances, let alone during the teen years.

This section also emphasizes the problems caused by rushing into sexual relationships before one is ready. Artie’s sexual confusion and hesitance throughout the novel suggest that he’s not emotionally ready for the intimacy he experiences with Erica. Though he tries to push past it and Erica works hard to coach him through, his breakdown shows that their intimacy is far beyond what he is ready to handle. Artie’s mixed messages and reactions also show that he is acting more on what is expected of him than what he truly desires. Sybil’s intense monologue in the hospital when Katherine and Erica visit her reveals how overwhelmed she is with pregnancy. Though Sybil owns her sexuality, she was not prepared for the possibility of pregnancy. The experience of having a baby inspires her to get on birth control and enroll in college, but she took a complicated route to get to that realization.