Due to their strong academic performance, when Lila and Elena complete the fifth grade, the families of both girls are told that their daughters should continue their studies and advance to middle school. This academic progression was not necessarily taken for granted for the children of working-class families at this time. Elena's parents hesitate over the question of whether they will be able to afford the cost of middle school, but agree to allow her to take the required exams and see if she performs well. Lila's parents, on the other hand, refuse to allow their daughter to continue her studies, even after Lila's teacher pleads with them. Lila, nonetheless, plans to find a way to take the exams and continue her education.
In order to prepare for the examinations, Elena and Gigliola, who has also been selected, begin attending special study sessions at the home of one of the teachers. Lila, having not paid the instructional fee, does not attend these sessions, but insists she can study on her own and complete the examination. Her older brother, Rino, who she is close to, has been demanding a salary for the work he does at the family shoe store, and wants to use that money to pay for Lila's schooling. Meanwhile, the friendship between the two girls deepens as they read shared novels that they have purchased with the money from Don Achille. Lila even writes her own novel, called "The Blue Fairy." Elena takes it to her favorite teacher, Maestra Oliviero, expecting that Lila will be showered with praise, but the teacher is uninterested and increasingly aloof in her behavior towards Lila.
Shortly before the examinations that will allow the girls to pass elementary school, and in Elena's case, continue on to middle school, Lila persuades Elena to skip school for the day, and explore the city beyond the neighborhood. At first, Elena is reluctant to do so, but she ends up enjoying the adventure and is surprised when Lila cuts it short, insisting that they return home after a violent thunderstorm breaks out. When the girls return home, Elena's parents have noticed her absence, and beat her as punishment. Elena wonders if Lila was perhaps hoping to sabotage her attempts at continuing on to middle school. However, Elena achieves extremely high scores on the admissions exam. Lila receives slightly lower scores, and begins to spend a lot of time with Carmela, another neighborhood girl. Lila also becomes aggressive toward her family, resentful that they would not send her to middle school. One day, during an argument, her father breaks her arm. This violence roughly coincides with the murder of Don Achille, for which Signor Peluso (Carmen's father) is arrested.
This section makes it clear how much of a threat is posed to the girls by the violence and social conventions of the world around them. The murder of Don Achille moves what might be seen as fairly typical neighborly quarreling to a more extreme level. It also marks a kind of loss of innocence for Elena and Lila; while Don Achille was a threat, he was also a kind of fairy tale figure, who was most likely quite harmless under a menacing appearance. The actual violence is a much more direct and real threat.
On a more personal level, it is also made clear that Lila's family is directly abusive towards her. This reveals a juxtaposition in that, while Lila is extremely mentally strong and stubborn, she is physically fragile, and her father can easily dominate her when she tries to insist on her own way. The context for the quarrel also reveals another, subtler kind of violence: the erosion of her prospects for education and advancement. Given that they are working class, Lila's parents see no point in educating her, despite her precocious intelligence. The bitterness of their teacher shows her frustration with the way Lila's intelligence will be squandered.