The patio chair
The patio chair symbolizes both the futility of Ryle’s rage and the indomitable nature of Lily’s spirit. When Lily first sees Ryle, he is unloading his rage on the patio chair. Lily, watching, is sure that the patio chair is made of marine-grade polymer because she once saw her father drive a car over a marine-grade polymer patio table, and it didn’t break. Ryle’s rage is no match for the chair, and his anger only increases as he attempts to destroy the chair. In the same way, though both Ryle and Lily’s father harm Lily again and again, something strong in her remains impervious to their abuse. She’s not unharmed—she bleeds and is heartbroken because of their anger. But on a deeper level, something in Lily knows that she deserves better, both as a teen and throughout her relationship with Ryle. For her daughter, for her mother, and for herself, Lily walks away from Ryle, suggesting something untouchably strong within her, and walks towards Atlas, another unbreakably strong character. Atlas is, fittingly, a former Marine.
The Boston magnet
The Boston magnet symbolizes Atlas and Lily’s dreams for a better future and their commitment to each other. For Lily and Atlas as teenagers, Boston becomes synonymous with a life outside of Plethora, Maine. When they say “Everything is better in Boston,” it’s a pledge to a future that isn’t defined by pain, abuse, neglect, and scarcity. Atlas goes to Boston and comes back for Lily, giving her the magnet for her birthday. It’s the only thing he can afford that expresses his commitment to her, and when he gives it to her, Atlas promises to come back for Lily, to share a better life with her in Boston. Atlas even names his restaurant after the sentiment expressed on the magnet, which emphasizes how far he’s come and where he has arrived, in addition to his commitment to Lily. As Lily and Atlas both independently work to create better lives for themselves, the phrase “Everything is better in Boston” comes to mean that everything is better once they are ready to be together.
Lily’s heart tattoo
Lily’s heart tattoo symbolizes both the joy and pain that Atlas’s love has given her throughout her life. When they are teenagers, Atlas carves the heart into the branch of the oak tree. Lily once used the oak tree to describe Atlas’s strength to himself, emphasizing how the tree grew up strong and beautiful on its own. The heart that Atlas carved has a small hole in the top, and when Atlas gives it to her, she loves it more than anything she’s ever received. She feels like her own heart is bursting with love. However, by the time she gets the heart tattoo, Atlas has been driven away by Lily’s father, and she’s not sure when she’ll see Atlas again. When she looks at the tattoo, she often focuses on the hole in the top of the heart, which parallels the way Atlas’s absence makes her feel like someone is letting all the love out of her heart, and highlights a certain lack of closure regarding their relationship.