Summary and Analysis
Caroline goes to a school board meeting with members of the Upside Down Society, an advocacy group for intellectually challenged children that she and Sandra started. The Upside Down Society has petitioned the school board to provide their children with access to the same education made available to every other child in the district. In an impassioned speech, Caroline advocates for the same education for all children: “It’s not about numbers,” she says. “It’s about children.” A lawyer supporting the society serves the school board with a class-action lawsuit.
Back at home, Al returns from a week on the road with mail from David—Caroline has provided David with post office box addresses in numerous large cities so that he can’t track her. Al has asked Caroline several times to marry him. He and Caroline discuss the school board meeting. Then they dance to the music coming from a distant radio. She feels connected to Al through the music.
Phoebe is stung by a bee, and like Paul, she is allergic to bee and wasp stings. Caroline and Al rush her to a hospital, where a nurse realizes that Phoebe has Down syndrome and asks whether Caroline is sure that she wants Phoebe to see a doctor. Caroline is outraged, but before she can hit the nurse, Al calmly but firmly answers for her. Taken by his devotion to Phoebe, Caroline agrees to marry him.
Once again, the story of Caroline, Al, and Phoebe serves as a counterpoint to the story of David, Norah, and Paul. This chapter, like the previous one, begins with a parental figure fighting for a better life for their family and ends with a child being rushed to the hospital. But Caroline is unlike David in important ways. David is private and distant: No one knows about his pain or his longing for a better life for his family. Caroline is public and compassionate: She goes to a meeting with an advocacy group and contrasts cold numbers to warm bodies. David looks at the world through lenses, books, and X-rays; Caroline looks at it with the naked eye.
The difference between David and Caroline leads to different effects of the trips to the hospital for each family. Paul’s injury drives David and Norah apart, and David’s isolation is symbolized through images of snow and bones. Phoebe’s trip to the hospital ends up convincing Caroline that she should marry Al, and the new couple’s connection is symbolized by music and the sound of distant traffic, which the text describes as resembling an ocean. The irony is that the Henry family, a “typical” family living the middle-class American dream, is disintegrating, whereas Caroline, Al, and Phoebe, an “atypical” family, are growing closer together.
This chapter also features one of the main obstacles to gaining equal rights for the intellectually disabled: money and logistics. The school board maintains that it cannot give children like Phoebe and Tim an education because its resources are limited. Caroline’s idealism demands that they make sacrifices, but they’re unwilling to do so because such sacrifices might require reducing the privileges of so-called “normal” children. Societies are made of not just ideas but also institutions, which take time and effort to change.