Summary: Chapter 1

Aza Holmes’s story begins in her high school cafeteria with her friends Daisy and Mychal. Here, she considers that she is not the author of her own life but rather the product of outside forces controlling her. Aza hears the sounds of her digestion and becomes anxious about the bacteria in her gut. Daisy tries to engage Aza by asking her about a boy Aza went to camp with, Davis Pickett, but she is focused on her fear of the bacteria C. diff and the possibility of it causing a deadly infection in her. She shifts her focus to the callus on her finger and feels compelled to make it bleed to make sure it is not infected. Aza tells Daisy that she knows of Davis but is still distracted by her thoughts. As they leave the cafeteria, Aza reflects that she does remember Davis and that he was someone who saw the world the way she does.

Summary: Chapter 2

Aza’s mom, a math teacher at the school, stops Aza on her way to class and asks her if she feels anxious and if she is taking her medication. Aza deflects instead of answering directly. She tells her mom that she is taking her medicine even though she only takes it three times a week instead of daily. Aza continues with her school day before walking to her car to meet Daisy and drive her to work. Daisy mentions Davis again, telling Aza that there is a $100,000 reward for information regarding Russell Pickett, Davis’s father, since he disappeared before police executed a search warrant on his home related to a fraud and bribery investigation. Daisy says that they have a chance to find information and get the reward since Aza knows Davis. Aza thinks about finding information and remembers that the Picketts have an unmonitored camera at the back of their property, so the two girls decide to check out the camera instead of Aza taking Daisy to work.

Analysis: Chapters 1–2

Aza’s internal dialogue in Chapter 1 introduces the idea of identity through the lens of literature. Literature and language are important to Aza and her friends, and they play a large role in their journey to self-discovery. This is first evident in Aza’s narration when she says she lacks control of her life. She wonders if she is fictional and does not feel real. Throughout the novel, Aza’s thoughts (often referred to as “invasives”) are stylized with italics. This stylistic choice is important in that it allows for Aza’s invasive thoughts to become visually invasive to the narrative as they appear on the page. It also allows for Aza’s invasives to become a compelling force which ties her identity as someone living with anxiety to the very real literature of Green’s story. In-story, and in keeping with the theme, Aza relinquishes the role of author of her own life to outside forces that she cannot control. Aza does not see herself as the main character in her own life, which is ironic because she is the protagonist of the novel. This theme will present itself throughout the story as Aza struggles with her own identity.

Chapter 1 also introduces the overarching theme of living with mental illness. Here, Aza’s anxiety disorder and her intense fear of germs like C. diff. become evident. The narration gives way to one of Aza’s thought spirals. As the spiral tightens, Aza’s tug-of-war with her thoughts comes to the fore. She’s aware that her anxiety and OCD make her different, but she cannot stop herself from obsessing over a physical ailment that doesn’t really exist in her body. The obsessive ritual of reopening the wound on her finger also serves to assure Aza that her finger is not infected, but this is damaging behavior which can in turn actually cause infection. However, Aza’s mention of Dr. Singh and breathing exercises indicates that Aza is receiving some sort of treatment for her disorder. Despite having at least some tools in place to keep her anxiety under control, Aza will struggle throughout the novel to keep her spirals in check and to see reality for what it is.

Chapter 1 introduces readers to Aza’s best friend, Daisy, and the two have a dichotomous relationship. Daisy and Aza simultaneously complement and frustrate one another. Daisy is bubbly, outgoing, and loud, which is very much the opposite of Aza. Her tendency to refer to Aza as “Holmesy” demonstrates the affection she has for Aza. Daisy is understanding, too. Aza only has to say the words “thought spiral” and Daisy needs no further explanation; she knows the exact turmoil going through Aza’s head. Daisy’s reassurance to Aza that they will hang out after school and watch a Star Wars movie is her show of support. However, Aza’s failure to comment on Daisy’s newly-dyed pink hair is the first moment in which tension builds between the two friends. While Daisy seeks attention and approval from her best friend, Aza falls deeper into herself and focuses only on her C. diff. obsession. Aza and Daisy’s friendship and its associated baggage will become a driving focus throughout the book.

These opening chapters set up a major theme that will become prevalent throughout the novel: connections to the past. Aza takes the idea of love seriously, and this commitment to her ideal love manifests in the way she reveres her deceased father’s old car. She personifies the car and names it “Harold.” Harold is a safe place for her, and it provides Aza with a lasting connection to the father she lost. Harold represents freedom, and the car is one thing Aza can control in her life. In return for Harold’s “love,” Aza protects Harold by making sure its engine runs smoothly and by making Daisy throw her milk in the trash before getting in the car. Aza’s protective nature around the car serves to set up connections to the past as a concept that will be further strengthened as the novel’s driving plotlines converge and characters are introduced.