Cal connects himself to Desdemona at the beginning of Chapter 15 because they both sabotage their chances at happiness over the guilt they feel. After Lefty’s death, Desdemona, left alone with her secret, cuts herself off from the family by isolating herself in the guesthouse. Cal, in shutting himself off from Julie, isolates himself emotionally and once again denies himself all possibility of romantic love. Another important dimension of their connection lies in how Desdemona’s secret actually causes Cal’s. He is living proof of Desdemona’s incest. However, the novel never portrays Desdemona as depraved or terrible but rather as complicated, sensitive, and deeply caring, which suggests she does not actually have reason to hate herself. As we’ve examined in previous chapters, the novel also routinely undercuts Cal’s assumption that he cannot be loved. Therefore, Cal and Desdemona punish themselves based on their own feelings of guilt, not out of any objective judgment. The guilt they carry so closely stems from the secrets they believe they must keep for their own safety. However, keeping those secrets comes at the cost of closeness and intimacy.

Callie, as she approaches puberty, becomes uncomfortably aware of the male gaze. Chapter 15 includes a series of disturbing events in which men who should not look at Callie sexually, like Milton’s Sunday dinner crew and Chapter Eleven, do so, implicitly because her beauty is simply too striking. Although Callie doesn’t cultivate or desire the male gaze, the narrative treats this gaze as inevitable, something that can’t be stopped. This view of desire and sexuality ties into the conservative leanings of the Stephanides family, in which sex is something mysterious, powerful, and shameful. Both Lefty and Desdemona’s and Milton and Tessie’s courtships contain this undercurrent of both unsavory and irresistible desire. Furthermore, in light of her new awareness of male attention, Callie’s enjoyment of gazing at herself in the mirror foreshadows her later transformation. She is, in effect, enacting the male gaze on herself. As she begins to undergo puberty, Callie’s discomfort with the gaze transforms into a complete unwillingness to be seen. Although some of this comes from her understanding that her body is different from other girls’ her age, it also coincides with a greater understanding of what sex is and therefore greater shame around her private body.

As in earlier chapters, secrets, or the need to keep secrets, hinder relationships and the possibility of closeness. In Chapters 15 and 16, the secrecy around puberty keeps Callie from understanding herself. Callie thinks of puberty as something that will come for her, a frightening force she can’t control. She also associates her physical development with the shocking experience of seeing another girl bleed through her shorts in front of the entire camp. The secrecy around puberty also makes the grown-up Cal associate it with something shameful. Cal’s observation that his hair is like Zizmo’s ties Callie’s use of her hair to hide her face with Zizmo’s disguising of his true self and his ability to hide in plain sight. Zizmo’s need to keep his identity secret cuts him off from the world around him, which Callie does too, using her hair. Zizmo is also a dangerous conman, which associates Callie hiding herself with her hair with her trying to cover up something similarly threatening or false. This juxtaposition does not suggest any ill-intent on Callie’s part but rather represents her fear of her own body as a mysterious and threatening thing she doesn’t understand.