I began to feel like I was getting the whole story for the first time, that I was being handed the missing pieces to the puzzle, and the world was making a little more sense.

When Jeannette discovers journalism, she feels as if she gains an understanding of the world that she’s never been privy to. Although her parents aren’t anti-education, their free-spirited lives have been detrimental to her schooling, and her father’s ravings about conspiracy and corruption have given her a skewed view of the world. Journalism is Jeannette’s chance to be someone who knows things and is involved with society in a way her parents never allowed. She follows this career path into adulthood and gains knowledge and experiences that she would have missed out on if she’d stayed in Welch with her family.

I wondered if he was remembering how he, too, had left Welch full of vinegar at age seventeen and just as convinced as I was now that he’d never return. I wondered if he was hoping that his favorite girl would come back, or if he was hoping that, unlike him, she would make it out for good.

In many ways, Jeannette and her father are each other’s mirrors. They have so many similarities in their characters, interests, and talents. When Jeannette leaves Welch for bigger and better things, her actions mirror Rex’s, who left Welch long ago to make something of himself. While Rex was eventually sucked back into the town’s misery, Jeannette finds her way out and is able to accomplish what her father might have also accomplished if his trauma, alcoholism, and mental illness hadn’t destroyed his potential. Although there’s something tragic in the way their life paths diverge, Rex is incredibly proud of his daughter’s success and sees the best parts of himself in her.

Despite all the hell-raising and destruction and chaos he had created in our lives, I could not imagine what my life would be like – what the world would be like – without him in it. As awful as he could be, I always knew he loved me in a way no one else ever had.

Rex Walls is a very complex person – he is a loving family member, a free-thinking adventurer, an engineering genius, a manipulative father, an abusive husband, and a self-destructive alcoholic all in one. Jeannette understands her father in a way that others in the family don’t. Where her siblings might see a failed man, Jeannette has more faith in her father than most, because she not only loves his boisterous, intelligent, larger-than-life demeanor but also understands and empathizes with the depths of his insecurity, his crippling self-destructive tendencies, and the shame he experiences due to his own actions. Jeannette’s father has made her the person she is today, and his love for her, while imperfect, is palpably strong.