Chapter Twenty-Nine: Atlas – Chapter Thirty-Three: Atlas 

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Atlas 

Atlas and Lily are having a nice morning together when Atlas’s mother shows up at Atlas’s house looking for Josh. Josh is still at Theo’s. Sutton demands Atlas return Josh. When Josh arrives, he’s scared of his mother. Atlas says she can’t take him. Josh wants it to be his choice and is angry he can’t live with his father, which hurts Atlas’s feelings. Sutton leaves. Lily locks the door after her. Atlas goes to his room to calm down. 

Chapter Thirty: Lily 

Sensing Atlas’s hurt feelings, Lily makes Atlas and Josh breakfast. Lily and Josh talk about what he wants to be when he grows up and how Atlas fended for himself when he was a teenager. The mood lightens. Atlas rejoins them and announces he found Josh’s dad, Tim, and is taking Josh to meet Tim. Lily notices Atlas’s worry. They say “I love you” to each other for the first time as they say goodbye. 

Chapter Thirty-One: Atlas 

Atlas takes Josh to see Tim in Vermont. Josh is clearly nervous as they get closer to Tim’s, but he isn’t saying much. When they arrive, Josh doesn’t know what to do. Atlas has been trying to hold his tongue. While they wait, Tim comes out, drinking a beer, and gets something out of his truck. Atlas tells Josh that he never knew his own father but that he could have found Atlas at any time. He gently tells Josh that Tim could’ve found him and never did. Josh hesitates but then decides that they can start a new family tree, with just two branches, a seedling. Josh decides to go home with Atlas. As they drive away, Josh flips Tim off and shouts the profanity that he spraypainted on Bib’s at the beginning of the novel. 

Chapter Thirty-Two: Lily 

Atlas meets Lily at her house for a quick hug. Atlas is heading to confront Sutton at Bib’s, while Lily is on her way to have an intervention with Ryle, with the support of Marshall and Allysa. Ryle is in the kitchen with Allysa when Lily arrives and is surprised Lily is there. They sit down at the table, and together, Allysa, Marshall, and Lily tell Ryle that he has to go to anger management, and until further notice, he will only have supervised visits with his daughter and his niece. Ryle’s angry but, seeing no other options, grudgingly agrees to therapy. Ryle leaves. Lily hugs Allysa and starts crying in relief. 

Chapter Thirty-Three: Atlas 

Atlas meets his mother in the empty dining room of Bib’s. Atlas makes coconut shrimp for Sutton, knowing it’s her favorite. When they sit down, Atlas asks Sutton if she recalls his favorite childhood food or if she knows any of Josh’s interests. Sutton becomes defensive, insisting her neglect and disinterest were due to the challenges of single motherhood. Atlas acknowledges how hard it must have been but points out that Sutton doesn’t have any interest in her kids. Atlas says he wants full custody of Josh, and if Sutton doesn’t give it to him, he’ll take her to court. Atlas surprises himself by admitting he doesn’t want Sutton out of Josh’s life and invites her to family dinner every Tuesday. Sutton agrees and asks for the coconut shrimp to go. When Atlas comes home, Josh is asleep. Atlas sees that Josh finished his family seedling project, which shows Atlas and himself on the newly-sprouted leaves. 


This section explores the symbolism of the seedling, which represents the possibilities for new modes of family and new beginnings. Throughout much of the novel, Josh has struggled to figure out how to complete a school assignment to draw a family tree. He doesn’t know his extended family and the project highlights the upsetting reality that his nuclear family has fallen apart in violence and acrimony. Still fixated on having a traditional family, Josh seeks his dad, Tim, to live with him. However, upon seeing Tim and his truck, Josh realizes his dad abandoned him and that at any point, Tim could’ve come back for him. Josh chooses Atlas and immediately realizes that he can draw a different kind of family tree—a family seedling with two sprouts, one for him and one for Atlas. In doing, he starts a new tradition and illustrates that he and Atlas need to create a new kind of family to break free and start a more positive future. 

Atlas’s conversation with his mother reveals the symbolism of the coconut shrimp. By cooking this dish for his conversation with Sutton, Atlas illustrates his capacity for compassionate care in the face of adolescent trauma, something Ryle could never release and that led him to hurt others. By releasing his own past trauma, Atlas uses his one positive childhood memory (rather than all of his negative ones) to reconnect. He recalls his mother taking him to Cape Cod and the two of them eating coconut shrimp, his mother’s favorite food. The shrimp, a symbol of his compassion and love, open a door with Sutton when he talks to her about getting custody of Josh. Atlas also asks Sutton if she remembers any of his favorite foods or any of Josh’s favorite foods or interests. In doing, he illustrates that Sutton is not interested in her kids while also empathizing with how hard it must’ve been for her to be a single mother. Because Atlas validated her struggles as a single mother while helping her clearly see her disinterest in her children, Sutton concedes that Atlas is right, but she takes the coconut shrimp to go suggesting that, though it’s difficult for her to accept Atlas’s love and compassion, she still wants it. 

These chapters illustrate the theme of the importance of community in ending cycles of abuse. Throughout the novel, Lily has struggled to escape her entanglement with Ryle and redefine her life without him, a life that centers Emerson, and eventually, Atlas. She’s often struggled on that path alone, keeping her abuse a secret, transgressing her own boundaries to appease Ryle’s anger, and hiding her life from Ryle to prevent confrontation. However, through the support of Atlas, Marshall, and Allysa, Lily is finally able to change this pattern. Atlas supports Lily throughout the novel, showing her what a life built on love looks like. Marshall and Allysa support Lily by standing beside her and setting unequivocal boundaries with Ryle. As Ryle’s best friend and Ryle’s sister, respectively, Marshall and Allysa have often toed the line, trying not to take definitive sides in the rift between Lily and Ryle. By coming out and supporting her, they help her take the final step in breaking the cycle of abuse and living her life on her own terms.