The chapter opens on Jeffery and Charlie playing cricket across their front lawns on New Year's Eve. Charlie is distracted by his feelings for Eliza, which fills his stomach with butterflies. He hasn’t seen her since the cricket game, and although he wishes he could go visit her, he knows he shouldn’t. He hasn’t seen Jasper either, which worries Charlie, since the last time he saw the other boy he was “full of intensity and intent” (220). The boys finish up their game and retire to Jeffery’s backyard to eat pieces of watermelon and compete at spitting seeds. They talk about the merits of mermaids and whether either of them would be going to the fireworks show in town that night. As Charlie takes his leave, he wonders if he can leave Jeffery behind. He realizes that he worries more about leaving Jeffery behind than about leaving his parents.
Charlie still feels dread about Laura’s death. Although the “fever around Laura’s disappearance dissolves,” Charlie is still convinced that he will one day face the consequences of his involvement in her disappearance (225). He fears that if he sees Eliza, he will tell her the truth. He is caught between a “temptation to end the misery and mystery, to make amends, to try and explain it, to carve that word,” and a fear that telling the truth might send both him and Jasper to jail (226). This reaffirms his conviction to leave with Jasper before they discover them, or Charlie gives them away. He imagines that he and Jasper will go on adventures together and that he will become an incredible writer along the way.
Charlie’s father comes to his room and tells him that Charlie was right, he has been writing a book in his study. He tells Charlie that it is finally done, and asks Charlie to be the first person to read it. Although he knows he should be grateful and excited, Charlie is annoyed by the presence of the manuscript. After his father leaves but before he can read any of the manuscript, Jasper gets his attention at the window. He tells Charlie that that night they are going to finally confront Mad Jack Lionel and get him to confess to what he has done. It’s the perfect night to do so because the whole town is on the way to the Miners’ Hall for the New Year’s show. Charlie is reluctant, but Jasper calls him out for being scared. He reminds Charlie that he won’t let anything happen to him, and that he needs Charlie’s help.
To Charlie’s chagrin, he runs into Eliza on the way to meet Jasper. She is happy to see him and tells him she has something to tell him. He tells her that he can’t stay, which causes Eliza’s eyes to fill with tears. He kisses her and promises to be back soon.
They arrive at Mad Jack Lionel's house. Charlie is shocked to learn that Jasper plans to enter from the front. He is also shocked to learn that Jasper is as afraid as he is and that his confidence is a front he puts on for those he is afraid of. Jasper knocks on the door and suddenly Lionel is there. Charlie is shocked by how old he is, and especially shocked when Lionel is happy to see Jasper. He invites the boys into his house and attempts to grab Jasper by the shoulder. Jasper tells him not to touch him, to which Lionel agrees.
He attempts to make the boys a cup of tea, but Jasper refuses. He tells Lionel that the only reason he is there is to talk about what the man has done. He asks Lionel, “So you admit it? You admit that it was you? That you killed her?” (238). Lionel stays silent for some time. When he speaks, he tells Jasper that he knows he is upset and tells Jasper that he thought he would have found out by now. He asks if his father is the one who told him. Jasper responds that nobody told him anything, but that Charlie and Jasper had seen him do it. This reveals a miscommunication—Lionel has not been speaking about Laura. Once he realizes that they are talking about Laura, he asks the boys what they know. Charlie feels the power shift in the room, and he begins to regret coming to Lionel’s home. He is convinced by now that Lionel didn’t kill anybody: “Mad Jack Lionel isn’t a criminal. He’s probably not even mad. He’s just old and sad and poor and lonely” (241).
Lionel reveals that he is Jasper’s grandfather, his father’s father. He has photographs of himself with Jasper as a young child as proof. As Jasper’s jaw clenches, Lionel asks him “to sit down with him, as he’s wanted to all these years. Because he has to talk to him about his mother” (243). Jasper responds that there is no point, that his mother is dead. Lionel responds that he knows, as he was driving the car that crashed and killed Ruth.
The boys leave, and when Charlie returns home, he feels as though something has irrevocably changed. Charlie is convinced there is something fundamentally wrong with the world. Mad Jack Lionel had told the boys that he was opposed to Jasper’s birth at first. Jasper’s mother, Rosie, was from a neighboring shire. When she became pregnant, the whole town disapproved and they were shunned. Jasper’s father, David, ended his relationship with Lionel and changed his last name to Jones. Rosie continued to reach out to Lionel, inviting him to Sunday dinners. Eventually, he relented and he and Rosie became friends. David never forgave his father. On the day of the crash, Lionel was driving Rosie to the hospital because of appendicitis. After the accident, Lionel was disavowed by his son, and so lived the rest of his life alone and in grief. That is where the “sorry” in the side of the car came from when Lionel conducted his memorial service for Rosie on the husk of the car that killed her. Soon, the rumor mill corrupted the story, and Corrigan turned its back on Jack.
That is why he had always called out for Jasper, insistent because he believed that Jasper had been told lies about his grandfather and so was shunning him on purpose. He hadn’t been calling after the boy for two weeks because he had been sick and bedridden. After the revelations, Jasper accepted a cigarette from Lionel, and at that moment, Charlie had the sense that “he’d abandoned hope of ever discovering who killed Laura Wishart” (249). But then Jack Lionel told Jasper and Charlie what he saw the night Laura died.
That night, Lionel had seen Laura walk past his home alone. Lionel paid attention, looking for Jasper, and noticed somebody was following behind her.
We return to Charlie’s bedroom, where he is tired and sad. Eliza comes to his window and demands to know why he was with Jasper Jones. When he doesn’t give a satisfying response, she asks why he didn’t go back to the fireworks. After Charlie apologizes, Eliza repeats that she needs to speak to Charlie. She tells him she knows where her sister is.
He follows Eliza through town and to the river. At the river, parked under a tree, Charlie sees his family’s car. The two approach it, and Charlie feels like he already knows what he’s going to see. Inside, he sees his mother having sex with a man he doesn’t recognize. She gets out of the car and attempts to force Charlie to go home, but Charlie won’t go with her. He tells her that she has dug her hole, and now she must fill it. She begins to cry, and Charlie tells her to go home.
Charlie and Eliza continue. Charlie knows Eliza is leading him to the clearing. They sit beneath the tree she hung on. Eliza tells Charlie that they have to be honest with each other, and then she goes first. She shows Charlie a letter, which was addressed to Jasper and from her sister before she died. She tells Charlie that she was the one who killed her sister.
She tells Charlie what happened. Laura’s father had been raping her in the nighttime. Eliza had no idea this was happening, even though it began when Laura was Eliza’s age, before she ever met Jasper. Once Jasper entered Laura’s life, Eliza would watch the two slip out of her window every night. She was jealous and thrilled by their romance. When Jasper disappeared to work in the orchards, Laura realized she was pregnant. She decided to tell her mother everything, but her mother denied it and called her a liar. That night, her father hit her for the first time and raped her for the last. When Eliza saw her climb out of her window but no Jasper in her lawn, she decided to follow her. She followed her to the meadow, where she watched her sister wait for Jasper and cry. She felt inhibited from going to her sister and offering comfort because she felt as though her sister would be angry that she had trespassed in this place. When Laura climbed the tree, Eliza assumed she was just seeking out someplace to sit. Eliza was daydreaming when Laura jumped. She was dead by the time Eliza got to her body. The letter was on the ground, underneath her hanging feet.
It’s Charlie’s turn. He tells Eliza about cutting down Laura and throwing her in the dam. He explains to her why they did it and how guilty he has felt since for doing that to her body. Eliza reveals she was the one who carved the word sorry into the tree.
Charlie asks her not to hate him. She asks if he cares about her, to which Charlie eagerly replies yes. She beckons him closer. He asks why she hasn’t come forward with the story, and Eliza tells him she has been afraid of what her father would do. Then she shakes her head, and as if to distract herself, she asks Charlie to dance with her. The pair daydream about waltzing in the Plaza and Charlie asks if she would leave Corrigan with him and Jasper.
They fall asleep in the meadow, and Charlie is soon wakened by Jasper. Jasper is angry at Charlie for breaking his promise. Charlie and Eliza tell him what they know. Jasper is distraught and jumps into the dam. He dives for a long time, so long that Charlie jumps in after him. Jasper grabs him underwater, and the two emerge clutching each other. Eliza tells them that her sister will stay down there forever.
Charlie tells Jasper he plans on leaving town with him, and Jasper responds that that is a bad idea. He tells Charlie that the news and the police wouldn’t leave it alone and that Charlie and Eliza would be brought back home in no time. He tells Charlie that only he can slip away with no consequences.
Eliza tells the boys she’s going to tell the town the truth about her sister, but Charlie tries to convince her that to do so would be to condemn Jasper. It is clear she still blames Jasper for her sister’s death, but she agrees to not make any decisions yet. Jasper tells her to do what she thinks is right.
The next morning, Jasper stops at Jack Lionel’s house on the way into town. Before leaving, he walks up to Charlie and thanks him and shakes his hand. He apologizes to Eliza. Charlie knows this is the last time he will see Jasper Jones.
In the longest chapter of the novel, the characters finally find the answers they have been seeking. Charlie gains insight into everything that has happened that summer, as well as the people who experienced it with him. He considers his friends, mainly Jasper and Jeffery, who are so alike and yet so different. They offer Charlie different things in life. Jasper has a confidence and strength that Charlie feels is infectious. He inspires Charlie to take risks and to dream of something beyond Corrigan: “I’ve got to get out, get brave. And I know it will be okay if I’m with Jasper. With him, I feel as though we could really do it” (226). Jeffery, on the other hand, offers Charlie a reason to stay home. Jeffery is comforting to Charlie, as he accepts Charlie exactly how he is: “It’s always been so easy with Jeffery. I’ve never felt the need to act stronger or smarter than I am. I’ve never had to try to be somebody else” (225).
Charlie has a negative reaction to receiving his father’s manuscript, even though he knows he should “feel honored and proud,” and “be full of congratulations and awe and support” (228). This is partially because his father had lied about working on it, and Charlie felt betrayed about the lie. Perhaps more crucially, however, Charlie’s anger at his father for writing the manuscript and sharing it with Charlie has to do with feelings of jealousy. For some reason, Charlie feels as though his father has taken something away from him, and that he can’t be a successful writer anymore. His father’s success convinces some subliminal part of Charlie that he will never be able to live up to this accomplishment, and it makes him feel “like something precious has been ripped out of my chest” (228). By the end of the chapter, however, we see Charlie accept the manuscript in his fantasy about the Plaza Hotel. Although he is still waltzing with Eliza at the Wishart, it is not his reception that he dances at, but one for his father and the release of his new book.
At the climax of the novel, Charlie learns both how to face his fears and that Jasper is not devoid of fear, as he had previously thought. Charlie is terrified to enter Jack Lionel’s house, and as they approach the door, he feels like it is a death warrant. Jasper tells Charlie to get brave, that “just because you don’t know how somethin’s gonna turn out is no reason not to do it. If the world went by that rule, nuthin would ever get done” (235). Although he is giving Charlie a pep talk, Jasper himself is sweating and displaying signs of anxiety. It occurs to Charlie that Jasper is afraid, which causes Charlie to be even more afraid at first, but he watches Jasper “walk. Straight-backed, chest full of air,” at the door anyway. Charlie sees for the first time “just how counterfeit his confidence is” (235). Later, when Charlie has bravely followed Jasper into the dam, he realizes that as much as he looked to Jasper for confidence, Jasper looked for that in Charlie as well—“Not because I’m smart or reliable or loyal or good, but because he needed someone, anyone, so he didn’t have to be alone with it” (278).
If Jasper Jones is as afraid as everyone else, Charlie realizes that he will never be without fear. He considers that “it’s not about being without it… it’s about how well you walk with the weight” (278). Charlie realizes that everyone has a choice when confronted with things that scare them, which is to react to it like Batman or to react to it like Corrigan: “You can either learn about things and be sad and restless, or you can put you head in the sand and be afraid” (278).
Charlie’s final loss of innocence occurs when he learns that Mad Jack Lionel isn’t some deranged villain, but a sad and lonely disabled man, isolated because of an accident many years ago. Returning home from Lionel’s house, Charlie feels as though he is a completely new person, and like his room isn’t his. Charlie has reached a sort of breaking point: “It’s all too much. Like that first night when this whole mess took me over. And it’s tightened its grip ever since. It’s bucked me” (244). Charlie is convinced that the world is very ugly. He thinks that “it’s small and it’s nasty and it’s lousy with sadness,” and everywhere there seems to be “something horrible I don’t want to see” (244). Feeling this way gives Charlie insight into how Corrigan reacts to terrible things: “Maybe that’s why this town is so content to face in on itself, to keep everything so settled and smooth and serene” (244).
Charlie’s relationship with his mother also reached its climax in this chapter. When he finds her cheating on his father, her immediate reaction is one of aggression. She attempts to use her power over her son once more to demand that he go home with her. But she is disheveled and drunk, and Charlie has finally seen her for who she is. He is in shock and feels calm as he steps out of her grasp. He feels “the balance between us shift” (253). He is ashamed of his mother, especially since all of this happened in front of Eliza. He feels as though he hates her, but she is also enough of a mess that he pities her too. The whole incident is a coming-of-age moment for Charlie, who can finally stand up to his mother. The imbalance in their relationship has been righted and then tipped in the other direction. Learning this about his mother confirms to Charlie that he doesn’t know a thing about the world.
At the end of this chapter, we finally learn who killed Laura Wishart. Although Jasper and Eliza both feel culpable for her death, there is only one true culprit, and that is Laura’s father. The ugliness of what that man was doing to his daughter, so vile and brutal, created the largest fear of all. As Charlie explains, the thing that killed Laura is the thing “that makes this town so quick to close in on itself and point its finger, that had it closing its doors and calling its children inside” (267). It was too much for Laura to bear, “she just couldn’t hold on anymore. She had no one to shield her from it” (267). Eliza and Jasper are culpable for Laura’s death insofar as they had the terrible fortune of witnessing it, but they are united in that “the two people who loved her the most are hurting the worst and harboring the most blame” (271). They didn’t know to save her from her father, “the monster who put the flint and force to this tinder and just reels in the pity of this whole town” (271).