Chapter Thirteen: Atlas – Chapter Fifteen: Atlas

Chapter Thirteen: Atlas 

Atlas got a text from Darin during his date with Lily saying that his mother was at his restaurant. After Lily goes home, he reluctantly heads to the restaurant where he grabs a handful of cash from his safe and faces his mother who he realizes won’t leave until she sees him. She tells him that he has an 11-year-old brother named Josh who is missing. Atlas didn’t know he had a brother. Josh is Tim’s son, but Tim has been out of the picture for some time. Sutton tells Atlas that she’s lived in Boston for ten years. She is more concerned about whether or not she’ll be arrested than about her son. He tells her to go back to the hotel she’s staying at, to the same room, to wait and see if Josh will return. He gives her money for the hotel room, which she takes without a word. Atlas is agitated but then Lily calls. Lily is defeated but doesn’t tell Atlas what has happened in her night. Atlas says he wants to come over to give Lily a hug before she goes to sleep, which makes Lily smile. 

Chapter Fourteen: Lily 

Lily is nervous about Atlas coming over, even though they just went on a date. He comes to her door and knocks lightly. He embraces her, and they hold each other for a long time. They both make it clear they had rough nights after their date and neither wants to discuss it. Lily wants to cheer Atlas up and gives him another volume of her teenage journal. Atlas kisses Lily on the collarbone where her cherished heart tattoo is. Lily feels like she has a crush on Atlas, but this feeling is undercut by doubt and dread about Ryle. 

Chapter Fifteen: Atlas 

Atlas thinks about his restaurants’ origins, both of which remind him of Lily. He decides to camp out outside of Bib’s in the hopes of catching Josh, who he suspects of vandalizing his restaurants. As he waits for Josh, he reads Lily’s journal. He reads about the night they said goodbye when they were teenagers, which is the night they made love for the first time, and the night that Lily’s father nearly beat Atlas to death. Atlas was hurt so badly that it has been difficult for him to remember what happened that last night with Lily, so he is grateful for the journal entry. Reading, it makes him want to write to Lily again. Though he’s trying to go slow with her, everything that happens makes him want to be with her more. As he’s thinking of Lily, the boy arrives at Bib’s. 

As soon as Atlas sees him, he is pretty sure the boy is his brother. The boy moves like him and is built like him. He tells Josh that he didn’t know that he existed until a few hours prior. Josh doesn’t believe him, but he allows Atlas to take him inside the restaurant. Atlas makes him a grilled cheese. Josh says that he and his mother fight all the time. Atlas invites Josh to come stay with him. Josh says he’ll just stay a night or two because he wants to go to Chicago. Atlas already feels extremely protective of Josh and laughs at the idea that he’d let Josh go. 


Through Lily and Atlas’s romance, the couple has an opportunity to address the challenges of the past in new ways. For example, when Atlas reads Lily’s diary entry about Lily’s father beating him, it’s clear that Ryle and Lily’s father share many qualities. They both oppose Lily and Atlas’s relationship and focus primarily on how the relationship makes them look. They both respond to the relationship with violence that alienates them from Lily and seeks to separate Lily and Atlas. In the past, Lily’s father was successful in driving Atlas and Lily apart. Though he was leaving for Boston anyway, the violence and tragedy of their final moments together made it impossible for Lily and Atlas to remain in touch. As Lily anticipates Ryle’s reaction to her relationship Atlas, she has an opportunity to change the narrative. Though she’s afraid that Ryle will drive Atlas and her apart, or that he will cause damage to her daughter the way her father damaged her mother, Lily’s journey is to realize that she is autonomous and no longer subject to the whims of violent men. 

This section explores the motif of trees, which symbolize true love in the novel. Atlas reflects that it was difficult for him that trees reminded him of Lily; because trees are everywhere, he constantly thought of Lily since he left her at age 18. This also suggests that Atlas’s love for Lily has been as ubiquitous and deeply rooted as trees. Atlas also notes that the preserved tree in the center of Bib’s reminded him of Lily. Just as his first successful restaurant is built around a tree, Atlas has built his life around Lily even in her absence—naming his restaurant after Better in Boston, a refrain he shared with Lily, and buying a house with a nice backyard for Lily to garden in in case they ended up together. Trees represent strength, growth, and enduring love and devotion, and Lily and Atlas’s love reflect these qualities as well. 

Time throughout the novel is cyclical, suggesting that the past often shows up in the present in unexpected ways. When Sutton visits Atlas at his restaurant, he isn’t just confronted with the mother who abandoned him. He also sees his own past being played out in the story of his 11-year-old brother, who, like Atlas, finds himself on the street at a young age, alone, fending for himself, and searching for a place to belong. Even before he knew that the boy who was vandalizing his restaurant was his brother, Atlas felt an affinity with him and wanted to help him more than he wanted to punish him for his crimes. This suggests that Atlas’s own time on the streets taught him to treat others with compassion. In the same way Lily saved Atlas by loving him as a teenager, Atlas saves Josh by loving and protecting his brother right away.