“My choice helped me realize that sometimes the hardest decisions a person can make will most likely lead to the best outcomes.”

In Chapter Two, Lily writes a diary entry about her divorce from Ryle. In her reflection to Ellen, Lily holds space for how difficult it has been for her to leave Ryle, grappling both with his pain and with the grief she has over the life she didn’t get to live with Ryle. However, Lily realizes the difficulty doesn’t mean she made the wrong decision. Though it’s been painful and arduous, Lily can see that leaving Ryle has created a much better life for her and her daughter, Emerson. By leaving Ryle, Lily escaped not only his violent outbursts but also the fear and hypervigilance his temper inspired. She is also creating a more stable life for Emerson, who will be spared the chaos of the kind of abusive household Lily herself grew up in. By making the difficult choice to leave Ryle, Lily stops the abuse cycle and creates a more positive life for Emerson and herself.

“It’s not the first time he’s mentioned I saved him back then, but every time he says it, I want to argue with him. I didn’t save him. All I did was fall in love with him.”

This quote takes place in Chapter Eight after Lily reads her teenage diary entry to Atlas. Atlas worries that the boy vandalizing the restaurant may not have someone to save him like Lily saved Atlas when he was young and homeless. Atlas experienced their relationship as a rescue from the bleak, lonely, loveless life he seemed destined to live. Atlas doesn’t trust that he could’ve survived without Lily. Lily sees this as misinterpretation of the situation. The framework of “saving” makes it seem as though Lily did something exceptional to help him. But, from Lily’s perspective, the situation was straightforward. Lily knows helping Atlas came naturally to her, and, during the course of her kindness, she fell in love with him. This suggests that love itself has the potential to save people even from the loneliest situations and from the most hopeless of moments.

“Atlas is so angry, but this is an anger I’m not afraid of. I realize the significance of this moment. I’m alone with an angry man in my apartment, but I’m not in fear for my life, because he isn’t angry at me. He’s angry at the person who hurt me. It’s a protective anger…”

In Chapter Twenty, Atlas sees the heart tattoo on Lily’s collarbone and is angered by the realization that Ryle bit Lily’s collarbone out of jealousy over a teenage Atlas. Lily observes Atlas’s anger and realizes that unlike Ryle’s menacing anger, Atlas’s anger is directed toward protecting her, not harming her. This becomes a healing moment, as she learns that there is a way to be alone in the room with an angry man and not fear for her life. This also incapsulates the difference between her relationships with the two men. When he was with Lily, Ryle was jealous and possessive, biting her tattoo as a way to claim ownership over her and her heart. In contrast, Atlas has always wanted only what’s best for Lily, and the tattoo and his protective anger exemplify how purely he loves Lily.

“I can draw a seedling with two tiny branches. Yours and mine. We’ll be on our own brand-new, tiny family tree—one that starts with us.”

At the end of Chapter Thirty-One, Josh decides to return to Boston with Atlas instead of trying to live with Tim, his biological father. Josh has been struggling throughout the novel with an assignment to draw his family tree because he doesn’t know his family. He has trouble understanding his place in the world as someone whose traditional family has fallen apart. After making the very difficult decision not to connect with his father, Josh is inspired to envision a new form of family tree—one that starts where it is, small, but healthy and full of promise. In creating this image, Josh is opening his heart to his brother and committing to creating a family with him. This quote is the origin of the title of the novel, which suggests that, through rejecting old patterns of abuse and forming new families that are built on love, people can disrupt cycles of abuse and start new, positive patterns.

“When you look at that tattoo, I don’t want you to think about anything other than the words I’ve written in this letter. And every time I kiss you there, I want you to remember why I kissed you there the first time. Love. Discovering it, giving it, receiving it, falling in it, living in it, leaving for it.”

In Chapter Thirty-Four, Lily finds a note from Atlas under her door. Within the note, Atlas recounts to Lily the first time he realized he loved her and asks her to move in with him. When Atlas says that he wants her to think only of his words when she looks at her tattoo, he alludes to the scar that Ryle left when he bit into the tattoo in a jealous rage. Here, Atlas rewrites that history, asking Lily to focus entirely on the love between them and to give no energy to the violence and bitterness that Ryle enacted on her. Atlas draws a line connecting the first moment he kissed her, that first brush of love, and the life they are building together, eliminating Ryle’s violent intervention. With this letter, Atlas seeks to heal lingering internal scars that Lily still bears from her violent marriage to Ryle and to look instead with toward a future built on the love that has always been growing between them.