The initial youth and innocence of Andrea, which also correspond to her lack of urban sophistication, are important characteristics as she develops through the novel. The plot device of a new family member in their creepy, squalid Barcelona apartment enables the author to highlight just how bizarre the family’s behavior is. Because the young characters, primarily Andrea and her friend Ena, are so distinct from the older ones, when their worlds collide, the impact is even more powerful.
Because her “home” life is so unsettling, Andrea is especially grateful to find a friend in Ena, and an environment that seems far more normal than that in the Calle de Aribau apartment. At one extreme in the family is the grandmother, whose grasp of reality is diminishing daily. In the parental generation, Andrea’s uncle Juan and his wife Gloria have their hands full trying to keep the family fed and their baby healthy; Juan seems to be losing that battle. A contest of wills that Andrea cannot understand is ongoing between Aunt Angustias and Uncle Roman, who are vying for control of the household and, it sometimes seems, the girl’s very soul.
This respite proves short-lived, however, when Ena gets involved with Roman. The conflicts between the two girls, although in some ways characteristic of adolescent friends’ disputes, are complicated because they cross both generational and familial lines. For Ena to carry out her vengeful plot, she must keep Andrea out of the loop. Ultimately, when she reveals that her reasons for associating with Roman, Andrea has to get beyond her resentment at having been used. The author ties up the loose end with Roman’s convenient death from unrelated causes.