Summary: Chapter Nine

After reading her teenage journal, Lily feels sad for everyone, especially her mother. She picks up the phone to call her mother and sees she’s missed texts from Ryle, who is on his way over. Ryle is exhausted after an 18-hour surgery and just wants to be next to Lily while he falls asleep. Lily gives him a massage, and he says she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to him. After that, they have sex for the first time. Ryle says Lily was right when she said that she was like a drug.

Summary: Chapter Ten

Lily asks Allysa why she works for her, and Allysa admits that it’s because she needs something to occupy her because she can’t get pregnant. Lily gets a text from Ryle, who invites himself to dinner with her mother. Allysa is shocked that Ryle wants to meet Lily’s mother, saying he’s never met a girl’s mother before. 

At the restaurant, Lily’s mother and Ryle hit it off. Then Lily looks up and sees that the person waiting on them is Atlas. They meet in the back of the restaurant, and Lily is in shock. She stays quiet most of dinner as Lily’s mom and Ryle chat. Afterward, Lily pretends that she thinks the restaurant isn’t that great because she doesn’t want Ryle to take her back to the place where Atlas works. After Ryle leaves because he has an early surgery in the morning, Lily is shocked to see that Atlas is waiting for her by her car. Lily accidentally makes it seem like she’s been with Ryle longer than she has, and Atlas says he’s been dating a girl named Cassie for a year. Lily says he seems happy. Atlas says he is, but that he wishes they had run into each other a year ago. When they say goodbye, Lily starts crying in her car.

Summary: Chapter Eleven

Lily starts reading more entries from her teenage journal. As a teenager, Atlas gets really sick, and Lily takes care of him in her room as much as she can. She pretends to be sick so she can stay home from school to nurse him back to health. They watch Finding Nemo, an animated movie in which Ellen DeGeneres does the voiceover for the character Dory, a fish. Dory tells Marlin, a fish who is searching for his lost son, to “just keep swimming,” even though he’s very sad. Lily feels like she’s Dory, telling Atlas to just keep swimming through the hard stuff.

Atlas is considering moving to Boston, where he can live with his uncle and have a roof over his head before he joins the Marines. Atlas kisses Lily, her first kiss, and they begin to spend most of their time making out and falling for each other. When Atlas kisses Lily on the school bus, Katie, who bullies Lily, says it’s gross because Atlas always wears the same clothes. Lily tries to attack Katie, but Atlas holds her back. Atlas and Lily tell each other that they are their favorite people. 

When the electricity is out, Lily and Atlas make cookies, and Lily realizes that Atlas is an amazing cook. Later, Lily’s father beats her mother very badly and tries to rape her. Lily tries to protect her mother, pulling a knife from the kitchen, but Atlas stops her. As he’s carrying Lily back to her bedroom, Lily’s mother sees them. She comes to her bedroom and says that Atlas shouldn’t call the police. Atlas leaves and Lily tends to her mother. Atlas moves to Boston and Lily is devastated. 

Back in the present, Lily can’t bring herself to read the final entry of her journal. She gets a text from Ryle, saying that he feels like being with Lily is a reward. She also gets a text from her mother, who is impressed that Lily is dating a doctor and has her own business.

Analysis: Chapters Nine–Eleven

The contrast between Lily’s first kiss with Atlas and her first time having sex with Ryle illustrates the difference between both relationships. In her first kiss with Atlas, Lily describes him kissing her gently, like she was “made of eggshells.” Atlas treats her tenderly and patiently, proceeding slowly, gradually building up to something more passionate. This parallels the way Lily and Atlas’s relationship develops. He moves slowly, both as a teenager and when they reunite as adults, listening to what Lily needs, and holding back his feelings of love and passion for her until she’s ready. In contrast, Lily describes Ryle during their first time as “fierce,” “needy,” and “unapologetic,” and him taking her “brazenly.” She even describes him growling, suggesting the animal urgency with which he regards her. While Atlas is attentive, kind, and focused exclusively on Lily, Ryle is rough, urgent, and focused on himself. Similarly, in their relationship, Atlas is mindful of Lily’s needs, focused on doing what’s best for her, and patient with her emotions. Ryle, on the other hand, is rash, demanding, violent, and self-involved throughout his relationship with Lily. This illustrates that, while Lily sees Ryle’s qualities during their courtship as attractive, they are also red flags that portend the revelations of his immaturity and brutality.

Throughout the novel, the mantra “just keep swimming” from Finding Nemo symbolizes both Atlas’s and Lily’s determination, strength, and resilience. When Lily first hears the phrase, she feels like she’s drowning from the stress of her parents’ abusive relationship. She also recognizes that Atlas, too, feels like he’s drowning, overwhelmed by the struggle to survive as a homeless kid. The line helps her feel like she can survive, and when she repeats it to Atlas, it helps him continue to fight for himself and to know that she supports him, too. Atlas and Lily repeat the line to each other throughout their relationship as a reminder to keep strong and not be pulled down by the sadness and difficult events in their lives.

This section illustrates the theme of ambition, and how the characters’ drive for success in their careers provides fulfillment and meaning outside of romantic relationships. Throughout the novel, Lily often throws herself into her work at the flower shop when she is unsure about Ryle or the state of their relationship. Work provides a respite from her tumultuous love life and creates a sense of meaning, purpose, and drive for Lily. Just as gardening provided solace when she was a teenager, Lily feels like she’s doing just what she is supposed to be doing in creating floral arrangements. Her mother expresses admiration for Lily, praising her for owning her own business. The flower shop provides a domain that is entirely Lily’s. Ryle often throws himself into his work, too. Though he is undone by his intense feelings for Lily, the demands of his career help create space in their relationship and help Ryle feel powerful and in control.