When she arrives in New York, Jeannette is greeted by Lori's friend, Evan, who picks her up from the train station and takes her to see Lori who is working a shift as a bartender at Zum Zum, a German restaurant. Jeannette goes exploring while Lori finishes her shift and decides that New Yorkers only "pretended to be unfriendly." The sisters live in Evangeline, a woman's hostel in Greenwich Village, and Jeannette gets a job working in a fast food restaurant. That summer, they move into an apartment in the South Bronx with a large Puerto Rican population. Jeannette enrolls in a public school where the students do internships instead of attending class and she begins interning at The Phoenix, a newspaper owned, edited, and published by a man named Mike Armstrong. She quits her job at the fast food restaurant when Mr. Armstrong offers her a full-time job working at The Phoenix. News comes from Brian that conditions are deteriorating in Welch, and Lori and Jeannette decide to move him up to New York as well. Soon after, Lori also petitions for Maureen to join them so that she can be better cared for. Jeannette applies and is accepted to Barnard College and the siblings begin to live a stable life as a family. Remembering their past in Welch brings them all to fits of hysteric laughter.
Three years after Jeannette left Welch, Rex and Rose Mary Walls arrive in New York in a white van, declaring they have moved permanently to New York to be a family again. The couple is kicked out of two apartments before they begin living in Lori's home. However, Lori is fed up by her father's drunken fits and her mother's aloofness and she is forced to kick them out of the apartment. Rex and Rose Mary live in the van for a time until it is towed. They become homeless. Jeanette protests her parents' new lifestyle but Rose Mary insists that "being homeless is an adventure" and refuses to do anything to change the situation.
The awareness that her parents are homeless wears on Jeannette's conscience but she is unable to appease her guilt without exposing her past to classmates and professors. Rex is hospitalized with tuberculosis and is able to stay sober for six months. This ends when he is released to work as a maintenance man in a resort upstate. Rex returns to New York City at Rose Mary's request and spends that Christmas with his family. When Jeannette tells her father she may have to drop out of Barnard because she is $1,000 dollars short of tuition money, Rex produces $950 of earnings from poker games and tells her to use it towards school. Jeannette says that they need the money more than she does but her parents insist that she take it.
After graduating from Barnard, Jeannette moves in with Eric, a man she had been dating for a long time, in an apartment on Park Avenue. She also begins working full time at the magazine she worked for during her years at Barnard. Jeannette is still unable to tell the truth about her past, afraid that it will cost her the job at the magazine. She tries to avoid conversation about her parents and when that fails she lies about them. After 4 years living together, Jeannette and Eric are married.
Uncle Jim dies and Rose Mary comes to Lori to see if she can help her purchase his plot of land back. When Rose Mary reveals that the land is worth $1 million Jeannette is shocked and wonders whether Rose Mary could have prevented their years of hunger and suffering had she simply sold the land she inherited in Texas.
Lori becomes a freelance artist and Brian joins the police force. After Maureen graduates from high school she goes to city college but she drops out and begins living with their parents in a squat and working temporarily as a bartender or a waitress. As always, Maureen depends on others to take care of her. Jeannette becomes concerned about Maureen's health when she begins exhibiting eccentric behavior. Her fears are confirmed when Maureen stabs her own mother after Rose Mary tells Maureen to move out of the house. Maureen is arrested and sentenced to time in a hospital in upstate New York. When she gets out Maureen catches a bus to California without saying goodbye to her family. Jeannette feels guilty for not protecting Maureen the way she had promised.
The family doesn't meet up as much after Maureen leaves. That moment changes things for each of them. Brian relocates to Long Island, with his wife and daughter. One day Rex calls Jeannette and asks her to come visit and to bring a gallon of vodka. Reluctantly, she arrives at their apartment on the Lower East Side where Rex announces that he is dying. Jeannette is unable to imagine life without her father but only two weeks after that visit he has a heart attack and dies, spending his last days hooked up to machines. After Rex dies Jeannette begins to feel restless and unsettled. She develops a need to always be moving, headed towards someplace instead of being there. A year later she divorces Eric, deciding that neither he nor Park Avenue were the right fit for her. She moves to an apartment on the West Side and looks forward to seeing Venus when the sky is clear enough.
Part Five: Thanksgiving
Five years after Rex's death the family reunites for a Thanksgiving celebration. Jeannette, and her new husband John, host them at their country home. Brian, who has also separated from his first marriage, greets them at the house with his daughter Veronica. Rose Mary brings the news that she and the squatters are finally being permitted to purchase their apartments for only $1 apiece and announces that she must return for a board meeting regarding the matter. The family drinks a toast to Rex Walls in remembrance of the man with whom "life was never boring."
Mobility is repeated once again in this section. However, instead of Rex determining when and where the family will move, Jeannette and Lori take control. They become the heads of the household and rescue their own siblings from undesirable conditions in Welch. The children must "escape" from under their parents and the stifling community of Welch. The sacrifices Jeannette and Lori make--staying up until early morning to complete posters, working long hours--remind the reader of the sacrifices Rex and Rose Mary seldom made for their family.
Characterizations of Maureen as the child who needed more protection than any of the other Walls children resurfaces dramatically after the family moves to New York. In part, Maureen's characterization is set apart from that of the other Walls children because she did not remember life outside of Welch. She is always asking about California and life in the desert because she cannot remember it herself. All Maureen has to recollect is the absolute lack of adventure and excitement that existed for the family in Welch. This sense of place sets her far apart from Lori, Jeannette, and Brian. When Maureen stabs her mother, Jeannette is upset primarily with herself and her family for allowing the one who needed the most care to fall by the wayside.
Rex's gift of $950 for Jeannette's tuition is symbolic of the ways in which he was a good father. So much of the last section focuses on the intensification of Rex's drinking and gambling habits and the ways in which he brings pain to his family. However, the memoir does not characterize Rex as an exclusively negative figure. Indeed, in the final chapter he partially redeems his previous actions by offering the earnings from poker game to his daughter so that she may continue school. This incident not only pushes against conceptions of Rex as a bad person but it also challenges general stereotypes of the very poor as people who do not value education or have no skills.
Ironically, money seems to mean little to Rex and Rose Mary Walls as a means to buy necessities or to make a practical, settled life possible. Indeed, Rex's earnings at poker illustrate that he could be living in an apartment with running water were he focused on using the money towards housing. Furthermore, Rose Mary's tract of land, which Jeannette suspects might be worth one million dollars, could have dramatically altered the trajectory of life for her and her family, yet she never even considered selling it.
In the final scene of the memoir, Jeannette intentionally resurrects the memory of her father. Instead of remembering the hardships he caused the family with his alcohol and gambling addictions they instead recognize the very thing that made Rex Walls unique; his propensity for finding excitement. This scene is indicative of a larger theme in the memoir of not judging Rose Mary or Rex or criticizing them harshly. Instead, Jeannette offers her story to the reader without condemning her parents or complaining about her upbringing. Perhaps, in writing the "truth" instead of hiding from it, Jeannette is set free by it--free from shame, from the need to lie about her past, and free from any feelings of contempt that may have existed for her parents.