Summary: Chapter 21

Aza tells the reader how she thinks her story should go. She thinks her thoughts should be consumed with figuring out Russell’s disappearance, she should gain control over her intrusive thoughts, and she should walk into the sunset like in a movie with either Daisy or Davis. In reality, she is bored with the slowness of her recovery. Dr. Singh puts her on a new medication and gives her hope that this medicine will help her. After she is released from the hospital, Aza stays at home for two weeks with Daisy and Davis visiting her. 

When Aza returns to school, she has a picnic with Daisy. Aza tries to explain to Daisy how she sees the world. She feels like other things control her, whether it’s her medicine, the bacteria in her gut controlling her brain, or the bacteria she’s exposed to every day. Daisy responds by telling her a story about a man explaining to a scientist that the world does not exist by itself, but rather the world sits on top of a turtle that is on top of another turtle on top of another with turtles all the way down. Aza likes the metaphor. On the way to class, Aza stops by her mom’s classroom and tells her about the $50,000 from Davis. Her mom urges her to return it but Aza tells her she does not feel indebted to Davis. Aza texts Davis and they plan to meet at Applebee’s the next night.

Summary: Chapter 22

Aza meets Davis for dinner at Applebee’s. She fears kissing him because of possible bacteria. She struggles with intrusive thoughts with him sitting close to her and asks him to move to the other side of the table. She tells him that being together is not going to work because she is not going to get better one day and that she cannot just get over her terror of the bacteria associated with being close to another person. He acknowledges that that is scary and Aza changes the topic to Noah. They catch up on each other’s lives and the conversation ends. Aza texts him when she gets home that night. He responds that he cannot just be with her over the phone just like she cannot be with him in person. Neither one says anything after that.

The next day at school, Daisy invites Aza to join her and Mychal at an art show where Mychal has art displayed. Aza joins them at the Pogue’s Run tunnel, the tunnel that the Pickett’s company was supposed to expand. When they arrive, other artist begin talking to Mychal, so Aza and Daisy walk around. After viewing the art, Aza and Daisy go for a walk through the tunnels. When they reach the end of the tunnel, Aza makes the connection that they are at the mouth of the river, meaning that “jogger’s mouth” is a play on words for the mouth of Pogue’s run. The smell of decay rather than sewage makes Daisy and Aza think that Russell had been down here and died.

Summary: Chapter 23

Aza procrastinates on telling Davis about the connection between jogger’s mouth and Pogue’s run. She eventually asks him to come over so she can tell him privately that she thinks she knows what happened to Russell. When Aza explains her revelation, Davis asks if she thinks Russell has been hiding in the tunnel, but Aza insinuates that the smell suggests that he died. Davis is obviously distressed and Aza tries to comfort him as he questions what he should do next. Davis leaves and Daisy comes over. Daisy comforts Aza with the thought that, even though life has been hard, they at least got some money out of it. She tells Aza that even though they do not get to pick everything that happens in their story, they get to pick the frame with which they look at it.

Analysis: Chapters 21–23

These chapters support the idea that Aza’s mental illness is not something from which she will fully or miraculously recover. There is no one-and-done treatment that will cure her of her thought spirals. Aza’s conversation with Dr. Singh reveals that Aza’s intense fear of bacteria has made a tool like hand sanitizer seem like a quick and reliable way to attack what she fears. However, it’s not the bacteria that needs to be dealt with—it is the fear itself. Dr. Singh’s visit confirms that mental illness is not something that can be dealt with quickly, and it is not something from which Aza will recover from in a conventional manner. Aza’s experience at her lowest point serves as an impetus for her to do the work which is needed to manage her mental illness.

The end of Chapter 23 continues to develop the theme of literature and writing. While Aza and Daisy are both conceivably still at the beginning stages of their lives, this is very much the end of their story. On a literal level, this is the end of the book. But in-story, the girls’ adventure comes to an end. Daisy’s final comment to Aza is that she is the one who gets to choose the beginning and ending of her story. How Aza frames her story resonates with everything the characters have gone through or endured in the novel. Aza has struggled with the language of her illness, and only by reframing it can she find a way forward to the next stage in her life. This may be the endpoint for the novel, but Aza’s life story has only just begun.