As Jeannette glimpses New York City’s skyline, she worries what people will think of her. She meets Lori’s friend Evan at the bus station, and they walk to Zum Zum, a German restaurant where Lori works as a waitress. Lori seems exuberant, and Jeannette finds that New Yorkers are friendlier and more helpful than they appear. That night, Jeannette moves into the women’s hostel with Lori.
Jeannette gets a job at a busy fast food restaurant and enjoys its lively, hectic pace. She and Lori move into an apartment in South Bronx, and Jeannette is thrilled to have such amenities as indoor plumbing and a gas stove. Jeannette sometimes gets jumped in the neighborhood, but she fights back in order to avoid becoming a regular target. She lands an internship at a local Brooklyn newspaper, The Phoenix, and her high school accepts the hours as credit. The newspaper struggles to meet payroll, but Jeannette loves the work. When she graduates from high school, they hire her on as a full-time reporter.
When Jeannette and Lori write to Brian, they find that conditions in Welch are getting worse. The house has fallen into further disrepair and Maureen moved in with the neighbors. When Jeannette describes their life in New York City, Brian follows in Jeannette’s footsteps and leaves before his senior year in high school.
At first, Jeannette doesn’t want to go to college because she likes her job as a reporter for The Phoenix. She believes that her ability to learn on the fly and research concepts she doesn’t know serves her better than formal education. Mike Armstrong, the editor in chief, assures her she can find a better job with a degree, and so she decides to go to Barnard College. Barnard is an expensive private school, but Jeannette puts herself through with the help of grants, loans, savings, and part-time jobs.
Jeannette enjoys creating her own life and grows to dread phone calls from her parents. On one phone call, she learns that Maureen fell through the porch steps and gashed her head open. When Maureen turns twelve, Lori buys her a bus ticket to New York City and becomes her primary caretaker. Dad accuses Lori of stealing his children.
Three years after Maureen’s arrival, Mom and Dad move to New York City. They quickly fall behind on rent and are kicked out of a series of apartments. Brian and Lori try to take them in on different occasions, but Dad’s drinking and Mom’s messiness quickly make the situation untenable. They live out of their van for a little while, but when it is towed, they find themselves homeless.