Before dinner, Carmen puts on the Pants, ready to confront Lydia and Albert about what happened at the dressmaker’s. But no one says a word about it. Carmen feels like she doesn’t even exist. She leaves the house, slamming the door behind her.
Although Tibby intended her movie to document pathetic people who were worthy of being laughed at, she is beginning to realize that the people she’d mocked are actually human beings with quirky, unique personalities and sad stories. Margaret, the movie theater employee who knows movie dialogue by heart and has seen thousands of movies, is more than the pathetic caricature Tibby thought she was. Instead, Tibby realizes that Margaret is very lonely and possibly even ill in some way. When Tibby faced her long summer and her deadly job at Wallman’s, she assumed she’d be superior to everyone who crossed her path. She also assumed she had the right to make fun of people whose lives and goals were different from hers. But as she and Bailey take time to actually talk to people, Tibby starts to realize she’s been unfair, even mean. Her documentary, as a result, is turning out very differently than she’d expected.
Until now, Bridget has seemed lively, courageous, and reckless, and readers might even admire her carefree ways. But, as we learn more about Bridget, her wild behavior takes on darker undertones. For the first time, we learn something about what happened to Bridget’s mother, as Tibby reveals she had “bad depression.” This suggests that Bridget’s mother had psychological problems that led directly to her death, perhaps by suicide. We also learn that Bridget has seen a psychiatrist, and that he was concerned about her “single-mindedness.” Her fixation on Eric and her inability to stop playing soccer aggressively even when her coach was unhappy with her suggest that Bridget is indeed recklessly single-minded. Because of the new information we have about Bridget, she seems as though she is somehow flirting with danger rather than being simply fun-loving and young.
As Carmen struggles to get to know her father’s new family in South Carolina, she must also struggle to maintain her sense of identity among unflattering, even racist, comments and observations. Carmen’s mother is Puerto Rican, and Carmen has inherited her dark skin and curvy figure. She doesn’t look like her father, and she stands out among Lydia, Krista, and Paul, who are thin and blond. Carmen feels the family’s surprise acutely when they first meet her, since she isn’t what they imagined Albert’s daughter to look like, and she is pained by the dressmaker’s overtly troubled expression when Carmen tries to explain that she is in fact Albert’s daughter. Carmen doesn’t easily fit into the new life her father has created, just as she doesn’t fit into the ugly bridesmaid dress that’s been selected for her. What’s even worse for Carmen is that she feels as if her father prefers his new, blond family over her and her mother. Carmen isn’t ashamed of who she is, but she struggles to keep a firm hold on her identity among so many unfamiliar people and places.
Although some of the girls’ problems are trivial, such as crushes, mindless summer jobs, and annoying siblings, other problems are incredibly painful and force the girls to accept a maturity they are often not ready for. Problems such as these will occur again and again, as these problems (as well as great joys) are part of being an adult. Bailey, for example, struggles with cancer, facing the fact that people treat her differently when they find out she’s sick. Wry, sarcastic Tibby is realizing uneasily that the people she habitually makes fun of are actually human beings who can touch her emotionally. Bridget has dealt with her mother’s tragic death and perhaps some psychological troubles of her own. Carmen faces racism in South Carolina, as she tries to fit in among a blond family that doesn’t know what to make of her Puerto Rican heritage. And Lena must cope with the fact that her inability to trust and her severe self-consciousness have hurt Kostos and her grandparents. The way these characters have always seen the world is being challenged this summer, forcing them to come to terms with their own mistakes, misperceptions, and attitudes.