Sal continues to read Phoebe's life with great ease. She is the only one who sees how upset Mrs. Winterbottom is, and how deeply the notes affect her, and Sal understands the significance of Mrs. Winterbottom's departure in a way that Phoebe cannot. Sal wonders at Phoebe's blindness to her mother even while she herself stubbornly continues to push Margaret Cadaver and her father away. Phoebe's life gives Sal cause to reflect on her own life, but does not seem to change her present behavior. Sal can apply the lessons she learns from Phoebe's life to her past, but not her present. Sal finds that while she understands the lessons contained in Phoebe's story, she herself must internalize those lessons through her own experiences. While she recounts Phoebe's story to her grandparents, she herself is engaged in a long and perilous trip to learn lessons about her own family.
Sal's mother and Mrs. Winterbottom's flight from home and family serve as a crucial step toward the girls' initiation into adulthood. Young adult adventure/accomplishment romances involve three stages: being separated from friends and family, undergoing a test of courage, and being reunited with friends and family in a new, more adult role. Both Sal and Phoebe now, at this point in their parallel narratives, find themselves without a mother, without the person who has always provided for their physical and emotional safety. Their mothers' departures precipitate crises, and the girls must learn to provide for themselves physically and emotionally, as well as reconcile themselves with the reasons their mothers left and their roles in their mothers' departures.
As Sal moves farther from her protected childhood realm in the framing narrative, she continues shyly to experience the pleasures of an increasingly adult sexuality in the internal narrative. The cummings's poem, "the little horse is newlY," encapsulates Sal's flirtation with Ben. Sal is new to her sexuality and drinks in its newness and its sweetness with unjudging wonder. Her continued separation from her father and her mother is the symbolic price she pays for these new, more adult experiences. Her quest, though, offers her the chance not simply to leave her childhood behind, but to reconcile herself with it and to take aspects of it—affection, spontaneity, closeness with her parents—into adulthood.