Chapters Nineteen–Twenty-One

Summary: Chapter Nineteen

Nate tries to figure out what to tell Bronwyn about his mother. When his mother left, he found it easier to tell everyone that she had died than to say she was a drug addict that left her family. When Nate’s mother mentions seeing Bronwyn, Nate gets back on his motorcycle and takes a long ride out into the desert. He returns in time to attend a party, where a girl named Mallory recognizes Nate from the Mikhail Powers special. She tells him that she thinks Bronwyn murdered Simon. Mallory offers Nate drugs, but he declines. Nate is relieved when he gets a call from Bronwyn, asking if they can talk.

Bronwyn sneaks Nate into her house after midnight. She doesn’t want to violate her parents’ trust in her, but she needs answers. Bronwyn asks Nate why he never told her about his mother. Nate truly believed, he explains, that his mother would never come home, and the lie was easier to tell than the truth. When Nate swears that he has never lied to Bronwyn about anything else, Bronwyn believes him. The two discuss the possibility of starting a relationship together. Bronwyn wants to try, despite the obvious challenges. She admits to Nate that she wants to kiss him, and Nate feels the same way. They kiss for a while, but Bronwyn is surprised that Nate doesn’t push for further intimacy. Eventually, Nate stops and suggests that they watch a movie.

Summary: Chapter Twenty

Cooper imagines how his father would react if Cooper told him about Kris. Cooper knows that his father feels partly responsible for Cooper’s now being a murder suspect. It had been his father’s idea for Cooper to hold back on the speed of his fastball until his senior year—so he could attract the attention of the baseball scouts by become an overnight pitching sensation. While his father’s plan worked, it also led to the rumors that he’d taken steroids, which Simon exploited, creating a plausible (albeit false) motive for Cooper to have killed him. A more genuine motive would be Cooper’s fear that Simon would learn he is gay, particularly given Simon’s remarkable knack for finding out people’s most intimate secrets. But Cooper especially feared Simon outing him because he suspected that Simon himself might be gay, and thus, (Cooper worried) he would just know that Cooper was gay too. Out of this fear of Simon, Cooper asked the social leader Vanessa to stop inviting Simon to parties, which she then did. Cooper now regrets having been so unkind to Simon.

Nate accepts a Tuesday evening dinner invitation from his mother. At the diner, before the food arrives, Nate wants to make sure his mother is able to pay. She is hurt by the insinuation, but she understands her son’s suspicion and explains that she has a steady job working for a doctor who helped her through drug rehab. Nate’s mother tries to talk to Nate about the investigation, Bronwyn, and the Mikhail Powers special, but Nate refuses to just act as if she hadn’t disappeared for three years. When Nate abruptly leaves the diner, Mikhail Powers confronts him in the parking lot and asks for an interview. Nate rides away, which leaves his mother to deal with Powers and his crew by herself.

Summary: Chapter Twenty-One

As Addy gives Bronwyn tips on nail polish over lunch, Maeve teases Bronwyn about the effort she is making look nice. After Cooper joins the table, Maeve tells the group that she plans to send Simon’s awful older posts about the school shooting to Mikhail Powers. Janae defends Simon and challenges Maeve about the source of her information. Bronwyn can’t understand why Janae is sitting with them.

Running laps in gym class on Friday morning, Addy notices how much fitter she has become since she started riding a bike again. Then someone trips Addy, and Vanessa calls Addy a “slut” under her breath. The teacher sends Addy to the nurse, but instead she heads to the showers. While helping Addy clean up and bandage her bleeding knees, Janae tries again to defend Simon, saying that he wouldn’t have wanted Addy to be bullied. Janae surprises Addy with an invitation to hang out that afternoon. At Addy’s house, they talk about how things have changed. Janae asks Addy for something to drink, but she leaves unexpectedly when Addy returns from the kitchen. When Addy texts Bronwyn about her strange afternoon with Janae, Bronwyn warns Addy not to trust Janae.

Analysis: Chapters Nineteen–Twenty-One

The opening chapters of Part Three explore parental detachment through the return of Nate’s absent mother. Nate has been a loner for most of his life, and his parents’ abandonment has caused him to put up emotional walls to protect himself. Nate doesn’t know how to relate to his mother, and he isn’t ready to re-establish a connection with her. Her drug addiction, false promises, and abandonment have left Nate resentful and disconnected. It seems easier for Nate to continue to be on his own than to allow his mother to disappoint him again. However, the Joshua tree serves as an important symbol of the nature of growth and how some take longer to grow than others. For Nate, the town of Joshua Tree calls up a rare pleasant childhood memory of peace and connectedness with his family. In this moment of reflection, the Joshua tree represents his mother’s potential to be functional and present in his life again. 

These chapters also present the theme of lying as a survival mechanism. The Bayview Four have realized that lies are almost always easier to tell than the truth. Nate lied to everyone about his mother’s death, but he didn’t believe anyone would be hurt by his dishonesty; his lie was more an attempt to self-soothe than to actually deceive others. Even though he has marred his credibility, Bronwyn’s sympathetic outlook stems from her own understanding of how lies can disguise themselves as truths over time. Cooper has also lied to protect himself. He believed that pretending to be straight was best for him and everyone around him. He has been lying since childhood, and he doesn’t expect that his lie will hurt other people. In fact, he feels that his lie is protecting his father from shame and humiliation. But Keely has been left feeling that Cooper never cared for her, and Kris is confined to loving Cooper only in private. Though these characters lie for their own survival, those lies have painful repercussions for the people in their lives.