Summary: Chapter One
Lily Bloom, who buried her father twelve hours prior, sits on the ledge of a rooftop of a building she doesn’t live in, thinking about the stars and death. She’s on the roof to calm her nerves after giving an “epic” eulogy at her father’s funeral, and she’s enjoying the solitude when she’s interrupted by an angry man. The man throws the door to the roof open and starts violently kicking a patio chair that’s made of marine-grade polymer. The chair is impervious to his violence. When the man sees Lily, he asks her to get off the ledge, afraid she’s going to hurt herself. Lily is reluctant, but seeing his anxiety, she obliges, and once she’s on more solid ground, the two begin to talk.
The man is Ryle Kincaid, who is studying to be a neurosurgeon, and whose sister owns the top floor of the building. Lily notices that Ryle is very attractive. She makes fun of her name—Lily Blossom Bloom—to Ryle, admitting that her name is all the more embarrassing and on-the-nose because she dreams of opening a flower shop someday.
The two begin to tell each other “naked truths,” acknowledging that people aren’t honest with each other the majority of the time. Lily tells Ryle that her father was abusive to her mother her entire life. Ryle tells Lily that he just lost a patient, a little boy who was accidentally shot by his brother. Ryle is furious about the incident, blaming the parents for not securing the firearm, and he and Lily talk about how the life of the brother who lived will be destroyed, too. Lily tells Ryle that she gave an anti-eulogy at her father’s funeral, opting merely to stand there in front of everybody for two minutes in silence, because she couldn’t think of a single positive thing to say about her father. Ryle tells Lily he wants to have sex with her. Lily tells Ryle that the first person she slept with was a homeless boy named Atlas who was staying in an abandoned house behind her home. Ryle tells Lily that he never wants to get married or have children and that he’s only interested in one-night stands. He hits on Lily, and Lily feels conflicted because she only sleeps with people with whom she might have a relationship. He starts to touch Lily, and she’s interested but confused. They’re interrupted when Ryle gets called into the hospital. He takes a picture of Lily, and the two say goodbye.
Summary: Chapter Two
Lily goes home to her annoying roommate Lucy who sings all the time. Lily gets a call from her mother, and they both pretend that Lily just got choked up during her father’s eulogy, rather than making a purposeful statement about his character with her silence. Lily thinks about how her mother always sweeps things under the rug.
Lily begins to read through her teenage diary, which was addressed to the comedian Ellen DeGeneres. As a teenager, Lily describes noticing that Atlas was living in the abandoned house behind hers. Atlas is a senior who goes to Lily’s high school. Lily begins to help Atlas, leaving him food, giving him clothes, and letting him shower at her house. She’s discrete about his situation, telling no one, and they’re careful not to get caught with Atlas at the house, as her parents, especially her father, would be livid.
Back in the present, Lily gets another call from her mother, who is considering moving to Boston now that Lily’s father is dead. Lily does not want her mother to move to her city.
Analysis: Chapters One & Two
This section introduces the marine-grade polymer patio chair as a symbol of the futility of Ryle’s rage and the indomitable nature of Lily’s spirit. The first action Lily sees Ryle take is to unleash his anger at the loss of his child patient on the indestructible chair. Though Ryle seems to want to do damage to the chair, it remains intact, no matter how much he kicks it. Ryle is angry about the senseless death of a child, which parallels a horrific incident from his past. No matter what Ryle does, the chair remains the same, and in the same way, no matter how angry Ryle gets, nothing he does can change the reality of his loss and grief. His abuse of the chair also parallels how, later in the relationship, he takes his rage out on Lily. Though he harms her and causes her physical and emotional pain, there remains something within Lily that’s as untouchable and indestructible as marine-grade polymer.
This section also explores the motif of naked truths, which symbolizes all that Ryle and Lily both share with each other and also hide from each other. Here, as they first meet, all the most important issues of their relationship come up in a way that seems honest but also hides a deeper truth. For example, Ryle moves Lily by telling her the intense story of losing a child patient, foreshadowing the reveal of a personal connection Ryle has with this particular case. Lily uses the fact that she lost her virginity to a homeless boy named Atlas to shock Ryle and to match the nakedness of his truths. But, in reality, Lily never truly stopped loving Atlas, so her somewhat flirtatious truth masks a more complex reality. These two “naked truths” represent the most painful conflicts of their relationship and the things that Ryle and Lily don’t yet admit to themselves.
Ellen DeGeneres serves as a motif throughout the novel. Lily projects wisdom and comfort on to her idea of Ellen, and in doing, creates a surrogate parental figure. Lily’s parents are often too embroiled in their abusive traumas to give Lily the love and attention she needs, leaving her lonely and searching for ways to understand herself. Lily shares her deepest experiences of the world with Ellen, and she goes beyond merely talking to her journal by imagining her way into Ellen’s experiences of life and fame and love. Lily also imagines some of the wisdom, comfort, and advice that Ellen might give to her. In this way, the figure of “Ellen” is a creative coping mechanism for the young, hurting Lily, a surrogate parent who helps Lily guide herself through a troubling period in her adolescence.