Chapter Sixteen: Lily – Chapter Nineteen: Atlas 

Chapter Sixteen: Lily 

Lily reflects on how she’s still angry with Ryle and how hard it is to be tethered to him, especially when it comes to the possibility of dating Atlas. When Lily’s mother volunteers to take Emerson for a few hours, Lily finds herself with a kid-free day and wonders if she might be able to spend some time with Atlas. Atlas and Lily FaceTime, and Lily sees that Atlas is making breakfast for two people. She thinks that he might have a woman over and feels jealous. Atlas quickly clears up the misunderstanding, showing her Josh. Josh correctly observes that Lily thinks that Atlas has a son. Atlas introduces Lily to his brother. He goes in the other room for privacy and tells Lily about meeting Josh, who has been vandalizing his restaurants. Lily can tell that Atlas is stressed out, and she’s shocked to find out that Atlas is planning on trying for custody of Josh. When they hang up, Lily thinks about how happy she is for Atlas that he has family. Atlas texts her and thanks her for being a beacon in his life and says that he’s missed her and should’ve kissed her. She writes back and says Josh is lucky to have him and that he definitely should’ve kissed her. She feels overwhelmed with joy. 

Chapter Seventeen: Atlas 

Josh tells Atlas that he has been sleeping in his restaurant for the past two weeks, after teaching himself how to pick the lock to Bib’s. Josh says that he wants to go live with his dad, who left years earlier. Atlas calls their mother and offers to keep Josh for a while and get him set up at school. She demands that Atlas bring Josh back to her immediately. Atlas gives Josh a credit card and a phone to call him if he needs help. When Atlas drops Josh off at the motel his mother’s staying at, he sees his mother hit Josh. Atlas runs to get Josh, pulling his mother away to protect Josh. When he gets Josh back in the car, he sees that he’s bleeding. Atlas takes Josh to the hospital to have his mother’s abuse on record. 

Chapter Eighteen: Lily 

Allysa and Lily talk about Atlas at the flower shop, though Lily is hesitant to share her feelings with Allysa because she’s worried still about Ryle’s reaction. Atlas offers to bring Lily lunch at the flower shop, and he ends up bringing up lunch to both Allysa and Lily. While Lily is busy with a customer, Atlas and Allysa talk. Allysa invites Atlas to a wedding of Lily’s coworker that Lily is going to, and Lily says she was just about to ask Atlas. Allysa says that Ryle will be emasculated by knowing that Lily is with someone as perfect as Atlas. Lily, without thinking, says Ryle should be emasculated by beating his wife. Allysa agrees. 

Chapter Nineteen: Atlas 

Josh takes an Uber from school to the restaurant. Atlas is looking forward to Theo and Josh meeting, but when they see each other, it turns out they already know each other from school. Atlas leaves them alone, and when he returns, they are having an intense conversation about manga. Brad puts Josh to work at the dishes to earn back some of the damages his vandalism cost Atlas. Atlas asks Theo how Josh is at school. Theo says that Josh isn’t mean or nice, but that he’s a bully of the bullies. This confuses Atlas, but Theo isn’t afraid of him, which sets Atlas at ease. 


Atlas’s concern for the young, hungry vandal’s—who we later learn is Josh—situation demonstrates the overall theme of the power of compassion to disrupt violence. Because Atlas knew how painful and lonely that situation can be, he chose to respond to the vandal with compassion instead of choosing punishment. Once Atlas knew that the boy was his brother, he continued to treat him compassionately, responding to him with gentleness and care instead of anger when he caught him trying to graffiti his restaurant. This compassion allows Josh to trust him enough to come home with Atlas and the two begin to make up for lost time. Atlas recognizes that Josh has been through violence and isolation, and he responds to him with empathy, asking him easy questions and trying to understand where he’s coming from, who he is, and what he needs. Because of this, Josh trusts him enough to come with him after Sutton harms Josh again, and in this moment, Atlas serves as a stalwart protector for Josh, the kind of protector that Atlas himself needed as a kid. 

The contrast between Atlas and Sutton’s motives for finding Josh unveils the differences between toxic relationships and love-based relationships. Comparing and contrasting Sutton and Atlas’s interactions with Josh are instructive for understanding how toxicity manifests and how love manifests. Sutton is primarily concerned with her own well-being. She searches for Josh after he’s been missing for two weeks because she’s concerned about being arrested for truancy. Josh’s wellbeing isn’t a concern, and she only seeks out her oldest son’s help to protect herself. Atlas, in contrast, is worried only for Josh’s care. Fearful that Josh is enduring circumstances similar to those that resulted in his own teenage homelessness, Atlas wants to do what he can to best help Josh live a better life. When Atlas returns Josh to Sutton out of legal obligation, Sutton immediately attacks Josh for putting her at risk. Atlas’s response is to physically protect Josh by shielding him from their angry mother but also to get care for him by taking him to the emergency room. This illustrates that toxic relationships manifest as self-absorption, violence, and lack of care in the novel, while love manifests as protection, curiosity, and empathy. 

This section explores the theme of the importance of community in ending abuse cycles. As both Lily’s best friend and Ryle’s sister, Allysa has a complex role in the divorced couple’s lives and is often tasked with taking everyone’s feelings into account. As a result, Lily struggles to confide in Allysa, though she badly needs her best friend, as Lily wants to protect Allysa from feeling like she’s in the middle of her friend and her brother. Allysa, though, repeatedly illustrates that she supports Lily, and it’s this support that helps Lily understand the legitimacy of her divorce from Ryle and the necessity to continue to create more space from him. For example, when they are talking about her new relationship with Atlas, Allysa is supportive, talking about how much she likes Atlas and how her brother should’ve treated Lily better. This opens space for Lily to acknowledge that Ryle should feel emasculated for abusing her. In a crucial moment, Allysa agrees, showing her support for Lily. Moments like these are integral parts of Lily’s path towards separating from Ryle entirely.