Chapter 3 opens with a return to the present narrative, as the brothers make necessary preparations for their trip. Micah is getting more and more excited about the trip, but Nicholas is seemingly more and more disinterested. Nicholas explains that his seeming disinterest is due to the guilt he feels about leaving his family for pleasure instead of a legitimate work-related reason. Micah and Cat want Nicholas to be eager to go, but he is ambivalent. The differences the brothers have in their approach toward this trip mirrors the differences they had during their school years.
Micah was often getting in trouble and being suspended from school, whereas Nicholas excelled at school. The boys began to excel in different areas. In Cub Scouts, Micah made the superior rocket and earned a second place ribbon. Nicholas earned an "honorable mention" ribbon, though neither boy read the ribbon correctly and mistakenly thought the word was "horrible." Nicholas' mother provided some comfort for him when he showed her the ribbon, but he was still left with a somewhat bitter pill to swallow.
His parents had unconventional parenting methods during the earthquake aftershocks and their after school childcare situation — and the Sparks children seldom received any medical attention, usually because it was too expensive. When Dana got sick with epiglottitis and had to go the emergency room, Micah and Nicholas were instructed to wait outside near the parking lot. And they waited there for hours, accepting neither food nor drink from anyone. When Micah fell from a tree and landed on his wrist, it began to turn black and blue. The brothers did not know if his wrist was broken or not, but they did not disobey their mother and did not leave the area in which they were told to stay.
The contrasting attitudes exhibited by the brothers as they prepare for their trip indicate their vastly different personality types.
Nicholas' analogy of streams, rapids, and waterfalls reveals that the past three years have been waterfallish for him, illustrating his perceived need to work harder and faster, in a frantic attempt to avoid being swept over the edge by an inescapable force, and his use of fragments emphasizes this fact: "Mentally. Physically. Emotionally." Structurally, these fragments represent the state of his well being.
Cat develops through Nicholas' eyes, and simultaneously, he develops through her eyes. And in contrast, Micah develops through his words and actions — calling Nicky, telling him "anticipation is the essential part of this whole trip," and then relating his attitude toward the trip to his attitude toward life. Their different priorities serve as a transition out of the present narrative and back to the story of their childhood.
The incident with the Cub Scouts wooden rockets illustrates the complex relationship the brothers had growing up, where Nicholas was both proud and jealous of his older brother. It also illustrates the dynamic between the two. Neither was able to read correctly, but Micah assumed the word was "horrible," and Nicholas naturally believed his older brother.
The image readers have of the Sparks parents also continues to be developed through their words and actions. Their mother consoles her son during his grief over the ribbon, and both parents display protective words and actions during the earthquake. His father also uses the natural phenomenon to impress his children with his powers — to stop earthquake aftershocks and rain — albeit for just brief periods of time.
The incident with Dana's hospital visit illustrates a number of things: first, it shows how poor the Sparks family was, only being able to seek medical attention in dire emergencies. It also shows the siblings' concern for one another. Finally, it shows their staunch obedience to their mother.
Richter Scale a logarithmic scale of 1 to 10 used to express the magnitude of an earthquake on the basis of the size of seismograph oscillations
FEMA the Federal Emergency Management Agency: an independent agency of the United States government that provides a single point of accountability for all federal emergency preparedness