Chapters 21–23

Summary: Chapter 21

Katherine sits with Michael’s family at his graduation and feels glad to finally meet his parents. She starts to cry when Sybil’s name is called and Artie’s is not. Later at Michael’s graduation party in his backyard, Katherine talks to Ike and Sharon and one of Michael’s uncles. After the party, Michael drives Katherine home, where her parents are already asleep. In the den, they take their clothes off and lie on the rug and remember the first time they had sex. Then they have sex with Katherine on top, a new position that Katherine suggests. 

Rain turns Katherine’s graduation into an indoor event that only her parents can attend, but Michael and her grandparents come to her graduation party. Katherine and Michael leave the next morning for a weekend at Erica’s beach house. They have fun on the beach, and that night they have sex and sleep on the beach. Four days later, Katherine and Jamie leave for camp in New Hampshire.

Summary: Chapter 22

Katherine shares letters she exchanges with Michael, Erica, and her parents as well as a letter she writes to Artie. Katherine describes the bus ride to camp and the camp itself and talks about her experience waterskiing. She introduces Theo, the head tennis camp counselor who is a twenty-one-year-old senior at Northwestern; her earthy roommate Angela; the camp director named Foxy, who prohibits drug use and discourages sex; and Nan, the photography counselor she particularly likes. Katherine tells her parents that Jamie has a new boyfriend and learns that her grandparents are going to Martha’s Vineyard for ten days. Michael and Erica mention running into each other at a sandwich place. Erica tells Katherine about writing an editorial for the newspaper and going to her beach house with Sybil for the Fourth of July. Michael and Katherine write about missing each other and confirm promises to be true to each other. Katherine encourages Erica to lose her virginity, but Erica decides she wants her first time to be special like Katherine and Michael’s.

Summary: Chapter 23

Katherine becomes increasingly aware of and friendly with Theo, and she notices the way he watches her. When Theo asks her about her necklace from Michael, he points out that forever is a long time. When Katherine asks Theo to stop calling her Kat, he says the nickname suits her, and so she decides it’s okay. One night after going to a movie with Theo and Nan, Katherine dreams about have sex with Theo. Another night in the canteen, Theo dances with the campers. One of the campers puts on a slow song. Theo takes Katherine’s hand and pulls her onto the dance floor. As they dance, they feel a strong mutual attraction. Katherine has tried to stay connected to Michael through their exchange of letters, but after the slow dance with Theo, she cries and feels confused about loving Michael but being attracted to Theo. When Katherine’s parents come to visit, Katherine shows Diana all the letters from Michael to try to demonstrate that her parents were wrong when they said that she and Michael wouldn’t last.

Analysis: Chapters 21–23

Chapter 21 returns the focus to loss of control and vulnerability as key aspects of sexual fulfillment. As the uncertainty of the future increases and Michael and Katherine face separation, Katherine takes control for the first time regarding sex. While in the past, Michael has led while Katherine followed, now Katherine takes the lead, deciding where, when, and how. Throughout the novel, Katherine has feared losing control of herself, but ironically it’s when she fully owns and expresses what she wants that she’s able to lose control of herself in the moment and experience deeper pleasure and intimacy. By owning what she wants and letting herself be vulnerable, she feels closer to Michael than ever. This is the last time the couple has sex, and in many ways, it’s as though Katherine has learned what she needed from the relationship. She has taken agency over her body and her pleasure and found true intimacy with her partner.

The structure of the novel shifts in this section, incorporating letters to and from Katherine at camp to show how her life progresses. Up until this point, the novel has almost exclusively focused on the development of romantic relationships and conversations about those developments, like most traditional romance novels. In the letters Katherine sends and receives at camp, the scope of her interests slowly begins to widen. By writing to different people and exploring experiences outside of the romantic realm, Katherine’s letters illustrate how her life is expanding as she gets distance from home and Michael. As Katherine meets new people, the intensity and importance of her relationship with Michael diminish, and she begins to share more letters with others aside from him. This shift emphasizes the idea that after a period of infatuation, Katherine, without even realizing it, has come to a more objective, level-headed view of her relationship with Michael.