Chapters 41-43 Summary


The next morning, Olivia asks her mom to pick her up after school. Her mom suggests catching a ride with Miranda again, and Olivia says she does not want to do so. She says she will take the subway if her mom cannot come. Her mom protests that she does not want Olivia to take the subway alone yet.

Dad takes Olivia’s side, saying that she is old enough to ride on the subway alone. Clearly surprised by this, Mom asks what is going on. Olivia cannot resist saying that her mom would already know if she had come back to Olivia’s room last night as promised.

Remembering her promise, Mom apologizes. Olivia says it is fine. At first she is just being nice, but when she realizes how sorry Mom is, Olivia decides it really is okay. Mom offers to pick her up after school, but she cannot get there until fairly late.

Olivia does not like this arrangement. She says she can take the subway, and her dad supports her. His argument is that Olivia is reading War and Peace and is therefore definitely old enough to ride the subway alone. Mom is not convinced, but she loses the argument.  

Genetics 101

Olivia’s dad comes from a Jewish family that fled Russia and Poland during the holocaust. Her mom comes from a Brazilian family that mostly still lives in Brazil. The couple met at Brown University, fell in love, and moved to upper Manhattan after Olivia was born.

Olivia has studied all the old family photographs, and nobody looks like August. There is no sign of his features anywhere. But after his birth, their parents saw a genetic counselor, who explained that August has a previously undiscovered genetic disease caused by a rare mutant gene. August inherited two copies of that gene—because even though Olivia’s parents have such different backgrounds, they both carry it. Olivia has one copy of the gene herself.

The Punnett Square

If Olivia ever has a child, there is a 50% chance he or she will inherit the mutant gene. If she marries someone who carries the gene, her children will have a 50% chance of carrying the gene but looking normal, a 25% chance of not carrying the gene at all, and a 25% chance of looking like August. Olivia knows these odds by heart, and she knows the chances for August’s future children too.

But the mutant gene is only part of the story. The rest is not about genetics exactly. It is “just incredibly bad luck.” Olivia has listened carefully to doctors’ explanations of “germline mosaicism,” “chromosome rearrangement,” and “delayed mutation.” She does not understand all of the terms, but she does understand what the doctors mean by them. They are reaching for explanations they do not understand themselves. “I like how words you don’t understand explain things you can’t understand,” Olivia reflects.

She has already decided not to have children just in case.