She squinted, wishing for a break in the clouds. She wanted to see the ocean. She wanted to figure out which way was north. She wanted the big picture before she landed.
This quotation appears in chapter 2, as Carmen flies to South Carolina and anticipates her summer with her father. She has looked forward to this summer for ages, and her excitement is immeasurable. She sees her father a few times a year, but this is the first time she’s visiting him—the first time she’ll see his apartment, how he lives, what he’s like in his own environment. As the plane lands, she imagines how wonderful it will be, just the two of them, and fantasizes about her father asking her to move to South Carolina. Carmen isn’t afraid of the unknown—she is, after all, jetting off to an unknown place to see her father in a home she’s never visited before. However, she doesn’t like surprises; she likes to know how things are going to work out. As she looks out the plane window, her desire to orient herself physically—to “figure out which way was north”—represents her desire to know the direction her summer and her relationship with her father will take. The final sentence of this quotation reveals Carmen’s desire to know the beginning, middle, and end of something so she can avoid being taken by surprise. She wants the “big picture” of South Carolina, since she’s never been there before, but she also wants the “big picture” of her life in general. She wants to know where she belongs, what will happen this summer, and how everything will play itself out.