Summary: Chapter 22
Maxon and America meet in the garden. America tries to convince Maxon that Celeste’s actions are all intentional, but he doesn’t believe her. She reminds him of Anna Farmer, whom she says wouldn’t have hit Celeste if she weren’t provoked. Maxon says he’d rather not talk about the others. America presses on, however, and Maxon becomes angry. He snaps at her that she should remember her place and leaves. Later at dinner, Maxon tugs his ear twice, but America doesn’t return either tug. She heads back to her room after dinner, her mind running with thoughts about why Maxon seems to be protecting Celeste. She sees Aspen at her door and tries to avoid contact. Later that night, Aspen knocks on America’s door. He asks her if she loves Maxon, and she replies, “No.” They kiss passionately. America notices how he smells different and how his body has changed. Aspen leaves after fifteen minutes. America, exhausted, wonders if she’s done something incredibly wrong or just saved herself from being at the competition any longer.
Summary: Chapter 23
America wakes up feeling confused and frightened. She knows that she could be charged with treason and executed for kissing Aspen. Feeling guilty, she decides to skip breakfast and stay in her room with her maids. Aspen comes to her door. He asks the maids to leave, saying he has to talk about safety protocol with America. He apologizes for the fight they got in before the competition started. When America asks him about Brenna, he claims he was just helping her after she fell. Aspen reaches for America’s face when the maids burst in. Aspen tells them he was just checking if America had a fever. In the middle of the night, Anne rushes into America’s room saying they’re under attack again. Even though the maids have a separate designated place to hide, America insists they come with her. Maxon checks on America and feels pleased to see she’s protected her maids. He reveals that the more dangerous Southerners are attacking, but he asks her to not tell anyone. America returns to find her room ransacked. Silvia stops by to tell her that three girls have been sent home and that America should call her family to tell them she is safe.
Summary: Chapter 24
America feels a growing sisterhood with the girls since they’re going through so much together. The morning after the attack, Maxon makes an announcement at breakfast: He’s sending all but six girls home. He doesn’t feel it’s right to keep anyone in the competition for whom he doesn’t have feelings with the palace becoming an increasingly dangerous place. Maxon announces the names of the girls staying: Marlee, Kriss, Natalie, Celeste, Elise, and America. After breakfast, Maxon stops by America’s room. He apologizes for yelling at her about Celeste. America sheepishly asks him why he didn’t send her home, as she wants reassurance that he’s not just keeping America around because of his promise to keep her to the end. Maxon reveals that he would have sent everyone else home as he only has feelings for her. America admits she’s still unsure of her feelings for him. He says he’ll wait for her. They signal to each other that they’d like to kiss and do.
Summary: Chapter 25
Aspen comes to America’s room again. When he sees the jar with the penny, he thinks it’s a sign America still loves him, and he feels relieved. Aspen tries to kiss her, but America stops him. She tells him that she still loves him, but things are now more complicated. She’s honest and tells him that Maxon likes her but she can’t give Maxon a fair chance if things continue with Aspen at the palace. Aspen becomes bitter. America defends herself, saying that when Aspen dumped her in the tree house, he crushed her. He asks her if she’s choosing Maxon. America replies that for now, she’s just choosing herself. Aspen tells her he now only feels even more inspired to fight for her, and he leaves her to sleep.
Analysis: Chapters 22–25
Maxon and America’s argument provides an important reminder of the power imbalance between the two. Even though they are friends, Maxon is a prince, and he ultimately holds the power in their relationship. He makes it clear that he expects America to live with his decisions whether she agrees with them or not. The way Maxon reverts to formal address at the end of the argument, calling her Lady America and referring to himself as the crown prince of Illéa, underscores the dynamic between them. America’s time with Aspen illustrates her attempt to regain the sense of power and agency that Maxon denies her when they argue in the garden. When Aspen leaves America’s room after their reunion, America thinks that Maxon deserves her disloyalty for humiliating her and sparing Celeste, suggesting that America kissing Aspen is an act of revenge. While America’s reasoning is an attempt to justify her actions, her thoughts also show that she cares for Maxon more than she wants to admit. Even when the love of her life returns, America cannot deny the prince’s power over her.
Even before Maxon chooses a winner, America displays qualities that prove she would be a courageous and diplomatic queen. When the palace is attacked again, America brings her maids with her to safety, because her instinct to protect those she cares about overrides her fear of the risks. During this harrowing time, she demonstrates an authority and confidence she hasn’t shown before, suggesting that Maxon may have inspired her to become a leader. Maxon’s agreement and Lucy’s lack of surprise at America guiding them to safety demonstrates that he is beginning to recognize these royal qualities in her as well. As she sends her maids to bed, America continues to display a calm, caring sense of command. While the choice America must make between Aspen and Maxon proves that love is never simple, America’s new self-assurance and sense of control prove that she has gained the agency she always desired. She feels empowered to make her own decision. As an Elite, America is still competing for the title, but she already embodies the best qualities of a leader while remaining true to the values she learned as a Five.