Even though Junior has an incredible time at the dance, he can never fully escape the biting anxiety that he has less money, and the simultaneous fear that he has less to offer as a result. Junior believes that he has kept his poverty a secret from his white friends at Reardan, but even before his confession to Penelope there are subtle hints that Junior might be deceiving himself. It is possible that Penelope is so enthusiastic about Junior’s suit because she knows he is embarrassed about it. Learning to ask for and accept help is another crucial part of Junior’s education. When Junior finally does admit his poverty, his friends respond, not with insults, but with compassion and support. This is a major turning point for Junior in his life at Reardan. Before, Junior felt mostly like a social outcast. Now, he must acknowledge that even the boy that said the most racist thing he has ever heard can be kind and compassionate.

Sometimes, Junior’s wisdom and early maturity make it easy to forget that he is an adolescent boy. At other times, Junior’s adolescence is glaring. Some of the contradictions in Junior’s life are related to his unique circumstances as the only Indian at an all white school. Some of Junior’s other problems seem universally relatable. Many teenagers, after all, feel like they are social outcasts. So far through the novel, this tension between being unique or being just like everyone else has been developed mostly through scene, through detailed, livable descriptions of the events in Junior life. Junior’s conversation with Gordy, however, brings the thematic exploration of the particular and the universal—or, as Gordy puts it, the individual and the community—into the story itself. This meta-fictional moment—a moment when a story seems to speak directly about itself—is followed immediately by a reminder of just how judgmental and harsh adolescent life can be. Junior wants to give Gordy a hug, but Gordy’s homophobia cuts short Junior’s temporary feeling of closeness and belonging.