“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.”

In Chapter Eight, Lily reflects on Atlas’s perception that she saved him after she reads his first Dear Lily letter. Throughout their relationship, Atlas has said repeatedly that he felt as though Lily saved his life. He says this both because she cared for him when he was experiencing houselessness and because their relationship provided him solace when he was suicidal. When Atlas says that he saved her, it implies she did something extraordinary or out of the ordinary. However, from Lily’s perspective, the events were much more straightforward. She didn’t do anything but give Atlas the love that was natural for her. In this sense, they were both saved by their love. This illustrates that the love they both experienced helped to heal the past trauma caused by being abandoned, experiencing violence, and experiencing toxic relationships.

“Every time I would doubt myself and think that what Ryle did to me was in any way deserved, all I had to do was think about you, Atlas. . . You’re a big part of the reason I got through it, even though you weren’t there.”

In Chapter Twenty, Lily assures Atlas that, even though he wasn’t physically there to protect her when Ryle was abusing her, the memory of Atlas helped her through the terrifying experiences. A large part of Lily’s pain and trauma in her experience with Ryle was her inability to hold on to her own experience of reality. Because of Ryle’s gaslighting and cruelty, Lily couldn’t stand on her own two feet and trust her perception that her relationship was toxic. However, something that guided Lily through the experience was her memory of Atlas’s love, attention, and compassion. Though Atlas regrets that he couldn’t spare Lily from experiencing physical and emotional abuse with Ryle, Lily emphasizes that the experience of Atlas’s love gave her a blueprint to understand how she should be treated. As a result, it was Atlas’s love that helped Lily understand that she deserved so much better than Ryle.

“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.”

In Chapter Thirty-One, after Josh decides not to live with his father Tim, Josh decides that he can create a new kind of family tree, representing just Josh and Atlas together. Josh is going through one of the most painful experiences of his life. He left his home with his mother because she was abusive, and then, realizing his biological father Tim had abandoned him too, Josh decided not to live with him either. Here, Josh makes the decision to live with Atlas instead of staying with parents who will neglect him and cause him pain. As soon as he makes this decision, he realizes that the decision is the first step in creating a new kind of family. He envisions their small family as brand new, like a seedling that has the potential to grow into a great oak tree. This image suggests that the love between Atlas and Josh is healing and can bring forth a new kind of family, one built not on violence and pain but compassion and understanding.