Mum was okay, sort of: a pale, slender woman with wispy blonde hair pulled back in an untidy knot. The worst you could say of her was that she worried about Lonnie too much and worked too hard at her job—long, long hours at the day-care center, then bringing home paperwork and sometimes actual people, old people whose care-giver children were quite desperate for a break. (1.6)
If you have mixed feelings about Marigold's attitude toward her job versus her family, we don't blame you; it kind of seems a little unfair that she overworks herself at the expense of Lily overworking herself at home. On the other hand, as a single-parent family, her income does carry a lot of weight and she probably needs all the hours she can get. Nonetheless, balancing a career with her family is clearly a challenge Marigold faces.
[Lily] wished she was like the other girls in Year Ten, like Lizzie Banks or Lara Reid or even awful Tracy Gilman. She wished she could, just once, enjoy filling in a quiz from Bestie without thinking it was bulls***, or talk about clothes without suddenly remembering the funny noise the washing machine had started making and how much it might cost to get it fixed. (2.2)
Teenage girls are notorious drama queens—clothes, personalities, friends, and boys are the center of the universe, and heaven help anyone who's within a half-mile radius when the bottom falls out of any of those things. For Lily, though, being a normal teenage female doesn't come so easy—her roles at home force her to be more mature than she feels she should be. Part of us thinks this isn't such a bad thing, but we can certainly understand her frustration.
Lily pictured her grandmother in the kitchen, busy at her spotlessly scrubbed table, so calm and efficient—perhaps all that housework, years and years and years of it, was responsible for poor old Nan's delusion that she had an imaginary companion. Perhaps one day, not too far away down the track, Lily herself would begin to see another person standing at the kitchen bench beside her, shadowy at first, then becoming clearer. (2.5)
Obviously, doing a lot of housework and cleaning doesn't make you certifiable, at least not in the clinical sense. Still, this gives us an idea of how Lily relates to the women in her family. She doesn't seem to want to be her mother, but she also seems terrified of becoming Nan. The fact that she doesn't know the truth about Sef being a really person doesn't help either.
May studied the dress for a moment, picturing her granddaughter. She hated to admit it, but Stan was right: Lily wasn't big, but she was stocky, square-shaped, like Stan—the dress wouldn't fit across her shoulders, for a start. A shadow of disappointment crossed May's face. She would have loved to pass this dress on within the family, to see it worn at another wedding. (5.34)
Not measuring up to the standards of beauty set by female family members can be devastating to girls Lily's age. There's a reason why so many teenage females struggle with body image problems. The fact that Lily is more stereotypically masculine in appearance only magnifies her difficulty fitting in with the other girls.
Beneath the pepper trees, the Year Ten girls were talking about asking boys out: walking up to a boy you fancied and asking him if he'd like to go to a movie with you, or a concert, or a party, or even a simple coffee at the mall. Men and women were equals now, weren't they? So why not? (16.1)
You go, girls. It's the 21st century, and young ladies are clearly redefining the standards of courtship for teenagers. While some of the book's older characters, like Rose and May, might balk at this idea, it's clear that girls today don't see things the way they did at their age.
"He goes over the forks," Clara said suddenly […] "When Mum does the washing up. He goes over them to see they're washed properly. And if they aren't, if there's the tiniest little speck left there, then he makes her do it again. And she shouldn't!" (22.7-9)
Whoa… treating your wife like a domestic slave where forks are concerned is totally not cool. It seems like a major problem in Rose and Charlie's marriage is that they have distinctly opposite personalities. Rose is extremely passive, while Charlie is used to taking control and asserting authority.
As she stroked on blusher and applied her lipstick, Marigold remembered how Dad had hated her wearing makeup when she was still in school so that, coming back from Saturday outing with her friends, she'd had to scrub her face in the ladies' room of the local railway station. How strange it was now that she was putting on makeup so that her daughter wouldn't grouse at her the minute she walking in through the door. (29.8)
There's an odd imbalance in Marigold and Lily's relationship that allows Lily to have control over some aspects of her mom's life, like looking professional and her best for work. It's strange that Marigold doesn't tell Lily what's what and reprimand her for bossing her around.
Marigold put her arms around her daughter. "Of course you don't look like Pop," she lied, smoothing the wild corkscrews of Lily's frizzy hair. "Not a bit." (29.41)
It's tough moral territory when moms lie to their daughters, but in this case, Marigold knows that telling the truth will not help the situation. It may be a lie, but the best she can do is encourage her daughter to move out of her depressed state of mind.
Lily tossed her head. What Daniel Steadman might think didn't matter now […] Daniel Steadman had been a mistake, and a humiliation. There were other things to do in life; […] She'd concentrate on her schoolwork then, she decided. She'd… she'd devote herself to science […] She'd be strong and stern and famous like… like Madame Curie! (35.56)
It's interesting how for Lily, there's no middle ground between having a boyfriend and basically being a nun. Like a lot of other things in her life, she jumps from having a crush on Daniel to deciding to never fall in love with anyone ever again. Fortunately, she figures out that it doesn't exactly work this way and abandons her plan of being the 21st-century edition of Madame Curie. Not being Curie isn't awesome, but just because Lily really needs to work on finding the middle ground.
From the backseat, Mrs. Nightingale murmured, "Ah, young love, true love—" a comment that normally would have infuriated Lily, but that, at this glorious moment of her life, simply made her smile and say with great dignity, "Could be, Mrs. Nightingale." (40.95)
It's funny how moms and older women always know the score when it comes to girls talking to boys a certain way. Something about this particular encounter with Daniel, though, has made her crush into a real thing, a natural thing that's nothing to be embarrassed of. She couldn't hide her feelings even if she wanted to, and in this case, she decides honesty is the best curse of action.