Summary: Chapter Fifteen
Lily, Ryle, Allysa, and Marshall go to Bib’s to celebrate the new pregnancy. Allysa notices Lily’s cut, and Lily finds out that Ryle lied to his sister, telling her that Allysa slipped in some olive oil and hit her head. Lily is relieved to not see Atlas throughout the whole meal, but when dessert comes out, the chef congratulates Allysa, and Lily sees that it’s Atlas. She watches as Atlas registers the cut on Lily’s head and the bandage on Ryle’s hand. Angry, Atlas leaves without finishing the conversation. Lily excuses herself to the bathroom, and Atlas follows her in. He tells her to leave Ryle because he hurt her physically. When Lily stands up for Ryle, Atlas says she sounds like her mother. She tells him she feels more uncomfortable with Atlas in the moment than she ever did with Ryle. He relents, telling her he didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. He says he just wanted to protect her the way they did as teenagers.
Lily opens the door to the bathroom, and Ryle is there. He immediately becomes angry and hurt that Lily is in the bathroom with another man. Atlas goes for Ryle, saying if he ever hurts her again, Atlas will cut off his hand. Ryle registers that the chef is Atlas, Lily’s teenage love. He makes a crude comment about how Lily had sex with Atlas out of pity. Atlas throws Ryle out of the restaurant. Ryle and Lily leave without saying goodbye to Allysa and Marshall. Ryle drives them home. He tells Lily that if she doesn’t want to be with him, she should say so, because it was really painful seeing her and Atlas together. Lily says she wants to be with Ryle and that there’s nothing going on with Atlas.
Summary: Chapter Sixteen
Atlas stops by the flower shop. Allysa talks about how handsome Atlas is. Atlas apologizes to Lily for saying that she was acting like her mother. He gives her a present he bought for her three years ago, hoping he’d run into her some time. He takes a sticky note from her desk and writes his phone number on it. He says to call him if Ryle ever hurts her again. She says it won’t be necessary. Lily reflects that she always feels like crying when she’s around Atlas. When he leaves, she opens the present. It’s Ellen DeGeneres’s memoir Seriously … I’m Kidding. Inside, it’s signed by Ellen with a note from her that says “Atlas says to just keep swimming.”
Summary: Chapter Seventeen
Lily decides it’s time to read the last entry in her teenage journal.
In it, Atlas comes back from Boston to surprise Lily on her 16th birthday. Atlas tells her that, the first night he saw her, he had planned on killing himself in the abandoned house. But seeing her in her room, it made him feel enough that he didn’t harm himself. He says he doesn’t want her to wait for him while he’s in the Marines. He promises that when his life is good enough to have her in it, he’ll come back for her. Lily says that if Atlas doesn’t come back for her, Lily will find him. Atlas gives her a magnet that says everything is better in Boston. Lily compares Atlas to the ocean. They have sex for the first time and say that they love each other. Up until that moment, Lily says that that was the best day of her life.
Then her father, overhearing, bursts into Lily’s bedroom and badly beats Atlas with a baseball bat. Lily is hysterical and both Atlas and Lily are taken away in ambulances, Atlas for his injuries and Lily for a panic attack. No one will tell Lily if Atlas is okay. Her father tells her that she brought shame on the family. Katie, the bully from the bus, says she was brainwashed, and Lily tells her to go to hell. Writing to Ellen doesn’t make Lily feel better so she decides to take a break from writing in her journal. She never writes in it again.
In the present day, Lily remembers learning that Atlas was okay and wondering when he would come back for her. She gets a tattoo of the heart he carved for her into a branch of a tree, the heart with an open spot at the top. Lily reflects that she still loves Atlas, but that she has Ryle now and wants to focus on that relationship.
Analysis: Chapters Fifteen–Seventeen
The Boston magnet symbolizes Atlas and Lily’s hope for their future together. Atlas gives Lily the magnet on her sixteenth birthday, and the promise that “everything is better” in Boston is more than just a touristy tagline. For Atlas and Lily, Boston represents the life beyond the struggles and powerlessness they feel in adolescence. It is a place where they can determine their own futures and escape the parents who didn’t love them the way they needed to be loved. It also represents a place where they can be together without the violence and scarcity of their youths. The magnet, then, serves as a sort of promise between the young lovers, that one day they will return to each other. Atlas names his restaurant after the phrase on the magnet, emphasizing how important Lily and their dream of the future is to him. Lily holds on to the magnet for years, which suggests that she never fully gives up the hope that she and Atlas will be together.
The heart tattoo symbolizes both the pain and solace for Lily in loving Atlas. Lily gets the heart tattoo in college, when she’s missing Atlas, and wondering when he’ll return to her. It’s based on the heart he carved for her in the oak in her backyard, the tree which represents Atlas’s strength and ability to rise above his violent upbringing. The tattoo is a permanent reminder for Lily of how much she and Atlas loved each other when they were teenagers. However, Lily also thinks about how the heart, which has a hole in it, represents how it feels to still love Atlas after all these years, and to believe he’ll never return to her, as though Atlas left a hole in her heart that can only be filled by him. The tattoo serves to keep Atlas always close to her, a constant reminder of his love, but it also reminds Lily of the pain of his absence.
This section explores the theme of the cyclical nature of violence through the reactions both Ryle and Lily’s dad have to Atlas. When Lily’s dad finds Lily and Atlas in bed together, his only reaction is extreme violence. He doesn’t talk to his daughter or to Atlas, doesn’t pause to be curious about the nature of their relationship or who Atlas is. He responds only with blind fury, beating Atlas with a baseball bat. This is heartbreaking for Lily and ruins a moment of closeness and beauty between her and Atlas. When Ryle catches Lily and Atlas in the bathroom, he immediately assumes the worst. He rushes to violence and accusations, hitting Atlas and making insinuations about the circumstances surrounding Lily and Atlas’s sexual experience. In a sense, both Ryle and Lily’s dad attempt to ruin the beauty of Atlas and Lily’s first time together. The parallels between these two moments serve to emphasize the parallels between Ryle and Lily’s father. Though Lily wants to disrupt the cycle of violence and not repeat her mother’s marriage, her early relationship with Ryle is filled with echoes of her father’s behavior. Both men are especially jealous of and abusive toward Atlas, who is the kind, loving, calm man Lily needs and whom neither of them can be.