Later, with the coconut cake still resting in her stomach, the youngest rises from her bed and stares out into the night—the moon is bright yellow, the sky blue-black, the shadows that are the Rocky Mountains. She sniffs, inhaling the scent of pine and cedar and air that is warm still—but with winter at its edges. The beauty of it all stops her breath. When it comes again, her breath is shallow and loud. She has never lived anyplace else and can't imagine it. Doesn't have to because, tonight, this beauty seems to be hers forever. (Prologue.7)
This description is beautiful enough to make us want to move to Denver, and our hearts ache for Toswiah/Evie when she has to leave all this beauty behind. If you were describing your home, what would you say? How would you feel if you had to leave and never go back?
So she remembers not to tell her sister this—that the world outside her window tonight is perfect. So perfect that sometimes it all seems too much. Too much beauty in one place. All mine, she whispers, wrapping her arms around herself and laughing. This world is all mine.
Gone. It is all gone now. (P.10-11)
Ah, stop breaking our hearts. How do you feel when the author describes the beauty of Toswiah/Evie's home and then says it's gone? Is it gone? Obviously, Denver is still there, but Toswiah/Evie is gone. Does it matter which way we say it?
When it comes down to it, every single other thing can be taken clean away from you. Or you can be taken clean away from it. Like home. More and more and more, Denver feels like a dream I used to have. A place I once belonged to.
When the memory of Denver gets too blurred, I pinch myself and say, Your name is Toswiah. There was a time when the Rocky Mountains were just outside your window. But my name isn't Toswiah anymore. And now, this tiny apartment in this crowded city is supposed to be my home. (1.3-4)
Toswiah/Evie describes Denver as a dream rather than as a memory, which is what it is. Perhaps this is because she's not supposed to lay claim to this memory any longer—it feels more like a dream than her reality.
When Daddy looks over to where me and my sister, Anna, sit watching TV, he looks surprised, like he's wondering why we aren't downstairs in the den. No den here, though. No dining room. No extra bathrooms down the hall and at the top of the stairs. Just five rooms with narrow doorways here. Floors covered with linoleum. Walls all painted the same awful shade of blue. (1.8)
Now we're getting into the specifics of Toswiah/Evie's new situation: The family is all cramped together in a place they didn't choose and didn't even decorate in a way they like. That's enough to drive any family bonkers, even if they weren't already dealing with relocation.
Take the gray-carpeted stairs two at a time, the way me and my sister used to do. See the spot at the top of the stairs that's flattened? Matt Cat used to sleep there because the sun came through the skylight and shined right on him. Listen. Can you hear him purring? Go to the right and you're in my room. Pretty. Plain. The room smells of pencil shavings. The stack of journals that I've kept since I was old enough to write haven't yet been destroyed. (2.15)
Toswiah/Evie remembers lots of sensory details about her house. It makes it super vivid for us as readers, which helps us understand just what Evie's lost.
If you'd ever been to Denver, I wanted to say, you'd know there were better places. But I stood there silently, trying to think of something else. Even thinking the word—Denver—brought tears to my eyes. (12.31)
Ugh, it has got to be so frustrating to get made fun of over a place (San Francisco) that you're not even from. And to be unable to tell anyone about it would make it even worse. We'd be crying, too.
I watched them walk away. A terrible loneliness came over me, making me shiver. When I looked up, the sky was almost silver. A beautiful, sad silver. All around me, kids were screaming and laughing and running. "Denver," I said to the this-place sky. "It's pretty there. We have the Rocky Mountains." (12.33)
This makes us wonder if the "this-place sky" is a little jealous, like, "Hey, is this girl saying I'm ugly?" Does Toswiah/Evie ever describe her new home as remotely beautiful? Is it really that ugly or does she just miss Denver so much?
Our bathroom here is tinier than the downstairs half-bathroom we had back in Denver and three times as small as the upstairs bathrooms. I'd never thought of us as rich when we lived there, but now I know we had it good. I closed the door, pressed my head against the cool mirror glass and sighed. (16.15)
This idea supports the truism that says you never know what you had until it's gone.
"Your sister up?" Mama asked. She was pouring pancake mix from a box into a white plastic bowl. In Denver, all her mixing bowls had been the good kind, made out of glass. Here, everything except Daddy's oatmeal bowl seemed plastic and cheap and temporary. (16.17)
This is an interesting observation because it's so specific and concrete. Up until now, Toswiah/Evie has mainly been dealing in abstract Denver = good, This-Place = bad language, but now she gets down to the point. Everything is cheap: Only Daddy gets a decent bowl. And now Daddy's about to break that bowl and try to kill himself with it, which doesn't say a lot for that bowl, symbolically speaking.
Anna and I looked at each other but didn't say anything. My mother hardly ever mentioned Denver. When she did, we knew we'd taken something too far.
"I think the road back is a narrow one," she said. "A part of me believes that if we do everything right, we can have it again."
"But we can't ever go back there."
"Not Denver," Mama said. She looked over at my father sitting by the window and lowered her voice. "The happiness. It's not always going to be like this." (16.36-39)
At last we get to a point where home isn't so much about a place but about a feeling. The family can't have a home until they can find a way to make one despite their circumstances. That's some deep stuff right there.