As the Wallses drive to Phoenix, Jeannette looks forward to staying with Grandma Smith. Jeannette appreciates the structure and regular meals her grandmother provides. On the way, however, Mom reveals that Grandma Smith died months previously, and they are going to live in a property she inherited from the estate. Mom doesn’t understand why Jeannette is upset.
Mom inherited a 14-bedroom adobe property and a large sum of money, which she mostly spends on art supplies. Dad gets a steady job and joins an electricians’ union. He buys the children bicycles. The school buys Lori glasses, and she becomes obsessed with drawing all the details she is finally able to see. In school, the administration places the children in gifted classes.
Despite their material comfort, the Walls’ house is infested with termites. The house also lacks air conditioning, so they leave the doors and windows open at night. One night, a neighbor walks up to Jeannette’s room and molests her. Dad runs outside with Brian and Jeannette to chase down the offender, an activity they call Pervert Hunting. However, Mom and Dad still insist on keeping the doors and windows open at night.
After about a year in Phoenix, Dad starts drinking more and causing scenes in public. He shouts during Mass, and, once, breaks into the cheetah’s cage at the Phoenix Zoo. He loses his job around this time, and money is tight, but when Christmas comes Mom and the kids are able to buy a tree and small presents for everyone. On Christmas Day, Dad drinks so much that he shouts blasphemous curses during Christmas Mass, and when they get home, he lights the Christmas tree on fire, destroying all the presents.
For her tenth birthday, Jeannette asks Dad to stop drinking as her birthday present. Dad ties himself to his bed to detox, and is sober and healthy after a couple weeks. Though Brian and Lori are skeptical of their father’s commitment to sobriety, Jeannette believes that he will stay sober because it was his birthday present to her.
The family plans an exciting extended trip to the Grand Canyon, but the car breaks down on the way, and they are forced to walk home. And older woman picks them up and gives them a ride home, more than once referring to them as poor people. Jeannette retorts that they are not poor. Dad disappears as soon as they get home, and returns blackout drunk the next morning, dragging Mom from her hiding spot and tackling her to the ground. The kids hit Dad and try to make him stop, but he pins Mom down and makes her admit that she loves him. She eventually succumbs and the two embrace.