Lee's disastrous parents' weekend, as it turns out, is only the beginning of a tumultuous year. The winter term is marked by a still-greater catastrophe. Lee and Martha are headed to watch a guest lecturer speak when a teacher, Mrs. Morino, stops them. Mrs. Morino explains to Lee that Sin-Jun is in the hospital because, according to Mrs. Morino, she "took some pills." Lee at first does not grasp the implications of this phrase, until Martha explains to her that Sin-Jun has attempted suicide. This information is hard for Lee to grasp because, as she explains, her idea of Sin-Jun simply does not include the potential for great unhappiness or decisive action. Mrs. Morino whisks Lee away to visit Sin-Jun, explaining that Martha should stay at school in case Sin-Jun is overwhelmed. While driving Lee to the hospital, Mrs. Morino asks her about Sin-Jun's behavior in the past, but Lee doesn't have much to offer. She's intimately familiar with her former roommate's habits, but the two have never waded into more personal issues and have not lived together in several years. Upon arriving at the hospital, Lee hears loud wailing and is struck by the knowledge that Sin-Jun truly has tried to kill herself, and that life-changing moments, like Mrs. Morino sharing this news, rarely feel as grave or important as they truly are. When she enters the hospital room, Lee sees Sin-Jun's roommate Clara, the source of the loud wailing she heard, sobbing next to the bed. Lee finds her both impressive and grotesque. Sin-Jun, next to her, looks deeply exhausted in a way that shocks Lee. Mrs. Morino departs, and Lee becomes caught in the middle of an exchange between Sin-Jun and Clara: Clara insists that she will spend the night at the hospital, in spite of Mrs. Morino's offer to drive her back to campus later, while Sin-Jun argues that she would like to be alone to sleep.
Clara briefly leaves the room, and Lee tries to understand what has driven her to this decision, asking her whether she wishes she had not gone to Ault. Sin-Jun is not very forthcoming, but does tell Lee that her parents already know what has happened and that her father—whom Lee has met once, at parents' weekend—will arrive from Seoul tomorrow. Lee reminds Sin-Jun that many people care about her, causing Sin-Jun to briefly tear up. This both satisfies and terrifies Lee—she explains to the reader that she generally feels as if she wants to know secrets or understand people, until the moment of discovery, when she is suddenly afraid. Panicking, Lee offers to fetch water for her and runs out of the room. She runs into Clara on her way back to the room and asks whether she has been granted permission to sleep at the hospital; Clara implies, aggressively, that she has. Lee realizes that Mrs. Morino will likely not come to pick her up for several hours, but leaves anyway, feeling uncomfortable. Clara and Sin-Jun, arguing again, hardly seem to register her leaving. When she gets to the ground floor of the hospital, Lee is desperate to leave but finds herself stalling for time, without even money to buy a soda from the vending machine. She tries to register what she has learned about Sin-Jun: that she's also been unhappy at school, that she, too, has experienced the feelings of futility and loneliness that are so familiar to Lee. While she waits by the soda machine, a stranger approaches, a young man carrying a little girl. He asks Lee whether she's alright, though Lee isn't keen to answer. The man explains that Lee looks familiar to him because he works in the kitchen at Ault. He shows her his Ault I.D. tag, hanging on a lanyard around his neck, which shows that his name is Dave Bardo. Lee explains to the reader that Ault students, contrary to stereotype, aren't rude to the service and maintenance workers at school. For instance, boys in particular are generally devoted to the head of the grounds crew, a middle-aged Southern Black man named Will Koomber. This interest, though, tends not to extend to kitchen staff, none of whom Lee has really noticed individually.
Dave seems to be in his early twenties, and looks, Lee thinks, like someone who could fix a broken-down truck: competent and salt-of-the-earth. He asks Lee what year she's in, and he shares that he has worked at Ault for a little over a year. They begin to talk about Dave's desire to drive to California, and the little girl in his arms interrupts them. Dave explains that the girl, Kaley, is his niece, and that he is caring for her while his sister is in the hospital being treated for an asthma attack. He reassures Lee that his sister will fully recover, mistakenly thinking that she is concerned for his sister. As a matter of fact, Lee is merely surprised to hear that Dave does not have a daughter, which makes her suspect that he is closer to her age than she first assumed. Lee becomes worried that she has been flirting with Dave unintentionally. Dave offers her a ride back to school, but she declines and quickly leaves the conversation. However, Mrs. Morino doesn't appear to pick her up at the appointed time. Lee has no money for a pay phone and is unable to convince the hospital staff to let her use theirs for free. So she returns to the lobby and finds Dave, now sitting with his niece and his sister. She hesitates to ask him for a ride, but he gently coaxes her to accept the favor, making Lee feel both flattered and self-conscious from the attention. His sister is not talkative and does not introduce herself, but the group of four gets in the car together, Dave gently soothing a sleepy Kaley. Then, in order to help Lee climb into the awkwardly positioned car, Dave places his hands on Lee's shoulders and moves her a few feet over in the parking lot. The touch is brief and casual, but Lee can hardly breathe afterward, wanting Dave to put his hands on her again. In the car, Dave and his sister gently bicker about how to fix the car heater. Dave asks Lee about Ault, and tells her that he has no problem with most of the students, although one girl is rude to the kitchen staff. He explains that his sister, Lynn, once worked at Ault too—but when Lee turns to look at Lynn in the backseat, she has fallen asleep. Dave tells Lee that he is 21 years old and in community college. Lee is at first hardly able to understand that he is getting an associate's degree, and explains to the reader that this is because the concept feels so foreign at Ault—at home, she has plenty of family members getting two-year degrees. When Dave asks Lee about her college plans, she nearly makes a self-deprecating joke about going to a state university before realizing that this would be considered offensive outside of Ault. Instead, she pivots to a joke about going to dog obedience school, saying "I'm the dog." Dave looks shocked, and from the future, Lee reflects that it took her many similar mistakes before she stopped making these kinds of upsetting jokes about herself. Since the car is cold, Dave offers Lee his gloves; she puts on only one and is so overwhelmed that she does not wear the other. They discuss Lee's classmates, and she thinks about how odd it is that, though she isn't close with them at school, they now feel so familiar in contrast to Dave. Their conversation is cut short when they arrive at school. Lee gets out of the car still wearing Dave's glove, and hints to the reader that she has intentionally 'forgotten' to return it.
The next morning, Mrs. Morino approaches Lee and apologizes for abandoning her, explaining that she assumed Lee would be sleeping at the hospital with Clara. She then asks Lee to pack Sin-Jun a bag with essentials from her dorm, so Sin-Jun can return to Ault and sleep in the infirmary. Lee asks why Clara, Sin-Jun's roommate, has not been asked to pack this bag, and Mrs. Morino explains that Clara and Sin-Jun have been arguing lately. Lee, who has never liked Clara much, isn't surprised. She runs through a mental list of things she finds irritating about Clara: the way she launches into long stories without context, the way she sings to herself as if trying to provoke curiosity, and—Lee reflects from the future—the way she acts totally secure even while she seems like someone who should have insecurities. Lee runs into Clara when she arrives later that day in Clara and Sin-Jun's room. Clara is impatient and snappy, though she does help Lee a little, showing Lee where Sin-Jun keeps her clothes and giving Lee a stuffed animal that Sin-Jun owns. Clara also instructs Lee to pass on a message to Sin-Jun: "don't eat too many peach daiquiris." She accuses Lee of pretending to be close to Sin-Jun even though she has not set foot in their room all year; Lee, baffled, points out that she is simply doing as she has been asked. Unsure what to say, she even tells Clara, "I'm sorry you feel that way," noting that it is an "Aultish" expression, polite but impatient. Lee leaves the room to go meet Sin-Jun's father Mr. Kim, who is supposed to pick her up. Mr. Kim seems unsure how to broach the topic of his daughter's suicide attempt with Lee. Inside his luxurious car, he asks whether she would tell her parents if she felt unhappy at Ault. She confesses that she would not, and that, if anything, she would mention it to her roommate. Lee tries to fill the silence with small talk, but Mr. Kim, arriving at the hospital, suddenly shifts gears. He tells a story about a time Sin-Jun, as a child, caught sight of her reflection and danced, "filled with delight." Realizing how strange it is to have to offer comfort to a friend's father, rather than be helped by him, Lee hollowly reassures him that Sin-Jun will be ok. When they arrive in her room, Sin-Jun seems sulky and irritable. Lee, waiting with Sin-Jun while her father goes to get the car, feels suddenly intimidated by her: the decision to take a dangerous dose of pills feels daring and bold, and Lee wonders of Sin-Jun considers her "dorky." Lee tries to ask Sin-Jun about her feelings at school, and confesses to sometimes feeling depressed, but pulls back from true transparency by claiming falsely that her feelings of depression come from academic stress—a more acceptable complaint at Ault. She remembers one of the first nights that she lived with Sin-Jun, during which she offered to teach her roommate new English words. She wonders whether Sin-Jun's foreignness makes it harder or easier for her to get through life at Ault. Suddenly, Lee remembers to share Clara's message with Sin-Jun. Sin-Jun's response is noncommittal and she is unwilling to tell Lee about the problems she has with Clara, especially given that her father has arrived. She does, though, squeeze Lee's hand.
The next night, Lee goes to look for Dave in order, ostensibly, to return his glove. Another kitchen staffer directs her outside to a dumpster. She climbs down a bare-bones staircase she has never noticed before and finds him. They chat, he telling her that his sister has recovered, and she informing him that her friend has also recovered and is back from the hospital. Dave asks Lee whether her sweater is cashmere, confirming her suspicions that he believes her to be as rich as most Ault students. When she compliments the dining hall's mashed potatoes, he invites her to eat dinner with him in town, at a restaurant with mashed potatoes that he claims are far superior. Realizing that he is asking her on a date, Lee agrees to dinner on Sunday, but is so numb with shock and anxiety that she cannot bring herself to flirt back, and awkwardly returns the glove before rushing away. Martha, learning about the date that night, is excited and urges Lee not to overthink Dave's attraction to her. Lee, though, feels paradoxically that any man who is attracted to her must be deeply flawed himself. She runs through an inventory of every strange think Dave might do on their date. Martha reassures her, which only makes Lee feel more acutely that she would prefer to stay home with Martha rather than go on her date. After Martha leaves for the library, another student fetches Lee, saying she has a phone call. The call is from Sin-Jun, who is sharing the news that she will be going home to Korea, at least for the time being. Lee suddenly misses her a great deal.
At lunch on Saturday, Lee sits with a few acquaintances, including Dede and Aspeth. While she eats, Dave comes to her table and announces that he will have to reschedule their dinner for another night. Lee, feeling awkward in front of her classmates, is quiet and even cold to him. He senses her unfriendliness and walks away with a biting farewell. Aspeth and a few other friends begin to tease Lee, asking whether Dave is her boyfriend, until Dede changes the subject by commenting on the day's lunch. Later, Dede corners Lee, letting her know that she will draw unwanted attention if she dates a "townie." Lee reflects that Dede's intentions were good, and that she purposely had changed the subject at lunch to help Lee. In fact, Lee thinks, Dede is right, even if her realism is unpleasant: dating Dave would indeed have drawn attention from classmates. That night, Lee feels half-relieved to be done dealing with Dave, half-angry that he did not seem to understand her implicit preference for a discreet, even secret relationship. She goes to find Sin-Jun in the school infirmary, and freezes when she walks in and sees Clara and Sin-Jun in bed, clearly about to have sex. Lee is too surprised and fascinated to leave, and stands in the doorway until the other girls spot her and yell at her to leave. Lee assumes that she'll never see Sin-Jun again, but Sin-Jun writes her a letter before the start of their senior year, telling her that she has ended her relationship with Clara. Flashing forward into their adulthood, Lee reveals that she stays friends with Sin-Jun and even visits her in Seattle at the apartment she shares with her girlfriend. Sin-Jun, as an adult, casually explains that she knew Clara was not gay, but pursued her simply because they were roommates. Lee then thinks about her own love life. She wonders—foreshadowing a future development in her relationship with Cross Sugarman—whether Dave was a sad but inevitable stepping-stone on her path to Cross, or whether he was someone she might have come to love in her own right, had she given their relationship a chance.
Chapter Seven closes out Lee's junior year with two parallel plotlines, each of which have possibly major consequences for Lee's final year of high school. While Lee meets with a school dean to discuss her failing grade in pre-calculus, Martha attends a class meeting, during which she is nominated for the extremely competitive position of senior prefect. Martha doesn't tell Lee about the honor, possibly because Lee is so preoccupied with her own math grade. Instead, she learns about it from Nick Chafee, who has been nominated as well: one boy and one girl from the senior class are given the honor each year. The boys nominated are fairly predictable. They include Lee's crush Cross Sugarman and the current junior class prefect, Darden Pittard. Martha is competing with Aspeth, the most popular girl in the grade, and Gillian Hathaway, the other current prefect. Lee thinks that Gillian is very bland and that Aspeth is mean, but both are fairly typical choices for senior prefect. That evening, Lee makes Martha a paper crown to congratulate her. Martha tells Lee that she is unlikely to win, and Lee secretly agrees, though she is gentle and encouraging.
Desirable though the nomination is (senior prefects get their names engraved in marble in the dining hall and are always admitted to Harvard), students never campaign for it, and ask neither for nominations nor votes. Lee describes the general taboo against expressing enthusiasm, desire, or desperation at Ault, noting that as an adult she spent many years learning to express enthusiasm in job interviews. Martha, like the other nominees, has not asked to be nominated, but unlike them she is a wild card. Lee is shocked both by her nomination and by her failure to mention it. Martha, meanwhile, is a good student, but she isn't popular. Strangely enough, Martha shares on her walk with Lee to dinner, she was nominated by Cross. She dislikes Cross, but tells Lee that she will have to pursue him more actively if she has any hope of making him like her back. Next, Martha turns the conversation to Lee's math grades. Lee tells Martha something new and upsetting about her meeting that morning: the dean had suggested that, unless she managed to improve her math grade, Ault might not be a suitable school for her in the future. Lee is already upset, but Martha brings up an even worse possibility than she had considered: the dean is planning on "spring-cleaning" her. "Spring-cleaning," Lee explains in an aside, is a bit of Ault slang, referring to the process of quietly expelling students over the summer, usually for a collection of smaller rule-violations. She runs through a mental inventory of other students who have been spring-cleaned—a boy named Alfie Howards who could never seem to keep clean or be on time in spite of his legacy status at Ault, a girl named Kara Johnson who never did her homework, wore black eyeliner, and seemed haughty but lonely. Spring-cleaned students tend to be treated as distant memories or jokes, given a lighthearted page of their own in the yearbook. Lee cannot imagine becoming one of them. She and Martha separate in the crowd to go to their assigned formal dinner seats, and Lee wonders whether she will look back on this moment next year knowing it was the beginning of the end for her time as an Ault student.
Lee's only hope for passing her math final exam is her tutor, Aubrey, a childlike freshman. On her way to a tutoring session, she runs into Dede, who expresses disbelief that Martha could ever beat Aspeth for the prefect role. Lee, who has always had a kind of sisterly animosity with Dede, finally speaks her mind about Aspeth, calling her "a bitch" and referring to Dede's behavior as "Aspeth worship." Then, at her meeting with Aubrey, Lee acts the way she does at all of their tutoring sessions in spite of the heightened stakes—she panics when she looks at her homework, then gossips until Aubrey patiently tries to steer her attention to math concepts. Aubrey always eventually completes the problems for Lee while she watches students walk around campus through the windows. Today she wonders about Gillian Hathaway and her boyfriend, wondering how it is possible for a couple to feel passionate about one another after being together for a long time—for instance, she muses, Sin-Jun and Clara somehow had to balance the sexual aspects of their relationship with their obligations as roommates, which seems bizarre to Lee. Eventually, Lee tells Aubrey about the dean's threat. Aubrey tells her that she can pass her exam and stay at Ault, but only if she studies extremely hard. This is the worst possible response, Lee thinks, since it means she must work hard and may not even succeed then. Lee would prefer, she thinks, to study in a speedy montage like a movie character. In fact, her dismal grade in math so far is only as high as it currently is because her teacher, Ms. Prosek, let her do an extra credit project, a timeline of female mathematicians throughout history. She even included Ms. Prosek herself on the timeline. In this case, as with her tutoring sessions, Lee succeeds by charming her instructor rather than mastering the material. She knows, for instance, that Aubrey will be charmed and do her homework, as long as she acts like she's trying. She feels that she is always able to fail in a way that appeals to others—for example, Cross does not love her back, but she is sure that she acts exactly the way a girl with an unrequited crush on Cross should act.
The next morning, Lee attends her school's housing meeting, where she and Martha write requests to room with one another again. This is something of an act of faith on Lee's part, since she believes she is likely to be spring-cleaned. At the meeting, Aspeth Montgomery confronts Lee. Dede has clearly told her about Lee's comments, and Aspeth is evidently furious. She leans extremely close to Lee in an almost threatening manner, and tells Lee that Martha will not win the election. In fact, Aspeth says, Martha should drop out, since the small percentage of votes she earns will only leach votes from Aspeth and turn the election in favor of the extremely boring Gillian. Lee agrees that Gillian is boring and feels admiring and even emboldened by Aspeth's open meanness. She is bolder than usual, telling Aspeth that she should confront Martha herself if she wants her to drop out. Aspeth seems surprised but doesn't retract her request. Later, Lee has another unpleasant confrontation, this time with Ms. Prosek. She describes her conversation with Dean Fletcher, thinking about how strangely personal it feels. Ms. Prosek, after all, is her adviser, and someone whom Lee admires, because she expresses her political views kindly but unapologetically and because she has a very good-looking husband who seems to love her even though she is not conventionally beautiful. Earlier in the year, Ms. Prosek had tutored Lee from her home, and Lee had enjoyed the tutoring sessions—she would chat with her teacher about her classmates and often got a sense that Ms. Prosek genuinely enjoyed being around her. One day, though, Ms. Prosek had acted strangely, and then explained to Lee that she had been obligated to write a letter to Lee's parents about her failing grade. After this, Lee felt strange, even betrayed, particularly having made herself so at home in Ms. Prosek's apartment. Now, speaking to her teacher, Lee is struck by the way that she speaks as if she has no power over Lee's ability to stay at Ault—she must have more influence, Lee thinks, if only she would choose to use it.
As the school year reaches its end and regular classes cease, Martha and Lee are facing major stresses: the prefect election and the take-home math exam. The election happens the night before the exam, and afterward, the girls have a moment of carefree giddiness. Martha gives Lee a piggyback ride through campus, not caring what their classmates think. While the two friends laugh uncontrollably, Lee notices that nobody even seems to notice or care how odd they're acting. Lee feels momentarily liberated, not knowing the results of the election or knowing whether she will be allowed to stay at Ault. The next morning, Aubrey corners Lee while they walk to roll call and hands her a good-luck card he has made for her. Aubrey seems unwilling to say goodbye, and they part with an awkward handshake. Once roll call has begun, the principal announces the winners of the prefect election: Cross Sugarman and Martha. Instead of feeling happy for her friend, though, Lee feels lonely, realizing that Martha is more popular than she is, or else that the popularity she has valued at Ault isn't as important as she always believed. Martha is swarmed with hugs and congratulations, and instead of pushing through the crowd, Lee goes to pick up her exam early. However, once she takes it back to her dorm, she is immediately overwhelmed. She gives up and lies down to eat a snack. This is how Martha finds her hours later, just before the exam is due. Realizing that Lee will not complete the exam and will be expelled, Martha disgustedly writes out the answers for her. She doesn't manage to finish the exam, which is fine, because Lee knows she would be accused of cheating if she got a high grade. Lee drops the exam off and does not see Martha when she returns to the dorm. Hours later, Martha reappears. Lee thanks her and she begins to cry. Lee realizes that for Martha, the triumph of winning the election is overshadowed by the fact that she helped Lee cheat on an exam, which goes against all of her values. The next day, Lee learns that Martha won the election in a landslide. She also learns that she has passed her exam and will be allowed to stay at Ault. She feels guilty only about Martha's role, not about cheating in general. Finally, we learn, from the future, that Aubrey confessed his love for Lee to her in a letter, handed over on her graduation day. The chapter ends with a memory of Lee and Martha's time as roommates. The girls bought several mirrors, always placing them in the same spot even though each one fell and broke. Lee recalls staring into the shards of glass together and thinking about how broken mirrors are a traditional omen for seven years of bad luck—or, in the case of two mirrors, fourteen years. At the time, fourteen years seemed an unfathomable stretch for the girls' friendship to withstand, but, Lee realizes in retrospect, they had nothing to worry about—they were close enough to remain friends no matter how much time came between them.
One theme that knits together these two chapters, with all of their disparate plotlines, is that of ambition. At Ault, most students have a great deal of ambition. They want to be popular and attractive. They want to attend the most prestigious colleges in the world. However, actually expressing a strong desire for any of these things is considered deeply uncool. This issue crops up most directly during the election of senior prefects, but it's also visible in the aftermath of Sin-Jun's suicide. Strains of the problems caused by this mode of thinking appear, too, in Lee's short-lived flirtation with Dave Bardo.
In spite of how much most Ault students would love to be elected senior prefect, they can neither ask to be nominated for the position, nor can they campaign for votes once they have been nominated. This isn't just a matter of school rules—there's no official prohibition on campaigning. It's simply a social taboo, and the only reason students cannot ask friends to nominate them is that it might be considered "tacky." Why, then, does expressing strong desire or ambition carry such a negative connotation in this environment? As Lee notes, this norm doesn't carry over into the rest of the world; for instance, in job interviews, expressing ambition and enthusiasm is considered positive. Ault, though, is filled with extremely privileged students. One of the main ways for a student to prove that they belong at Ault, somewhat absurdly, is by acting as if they expect and deserve to be there. Any strongly expressed desire—for instance, the desire to be a prefect—might be taken as evidence that the desirer does not truly have a place at Ault, or does not feel completely confident and secure there. And, though Ault students tend to take this idea to an extreme by refusing to express feelings of need, it is based somewhat on truth. Martha, for instance, has a steady confidence, based on an internal sense of integrity. This confidence easily earns her the position of prefect, even though she does not ask anybody to nominate her or vote for her. Dede, meanwhile, has a hard time disguising her bald ambition, especially when it comes to popularity. Lee, who has an increasingly keen sense of how to deflate her classmates' egos, points out to Dede that her behavior constitutes "Aspeth-worship." The word "worship" evokes ideas of earnestness and longing, both of which are antithetical to Ault's values and cause Dede to stumble. Aspeth herself, meanwhile, is much better at acting as if she does not care about or need approval. For this reason, she is more respected, or at least more feared, than Dede. Though Aspeth isn't able to resist the urge to campaign, she argues that she should be prefect, not because she can offer anything in return but because "Aspeth was Aspeth." This attitude doesn't gain her the election, but it is the purest expression of Ault entitlement.
A suicide attempt, meanwhile, may not seem like an expression of entitlement. Sin-Jun's suicide attempt may stem from a variety of sources: her status as an outsider at school, her distance from home, and, as we learn in chapter six, her secret relationship with Clara. Lee, though, finds herself admiring Sin-Jun and even suddenly afraid that her friend, newly cool after overdosing on pills, will look down on her as "dorky." This is a juvenile understanding of the situation, very much in keeping with the values Lee has internalized at school. To her, it seems that ending one's own life is the ultimate expression of not caring, and the most confident possible way to draw attention without seeming as if one wants attention. Of course, Lee's "dorkiness" is the farthest thing from Sin-Jun's mind: Lee's obsession with acting "correctly" according to Ault's value system blinds her to her friend's humanity and very real distress.
If Lee were able to see with clearer eyes—and eventually she is, when she and Sin-Jun maintain their friendship as adults—she might realize that Sin-Jun is facing two distinct types of loneliness, which, in combination, have made her years at Ault very difficult. Sittenfeld assembles a kind of typology of aloneness among Lee's classmates, displaying the diverse ways in which people can feel isolated even when in a crowded, communal environment. Broadly speaking, Ault has two categories of outsiders. Lee is one type of outsider: an invisible one, a person who cannot relate to her classmates' experiences or act the way she is expected to, but who looks, at first glance, just like the typical Ault student. Lee, being white, American, and relatively conventional in her self-presentation, is an invisible outsider. This makes her life easier in some ways, since she is able to essentially pretend that she has the wealthy background of most Ault students, but it also puts more pressure on her; she feels as if she should be able to fit in, and blames herself when she cannot. Students of color at Ault, meanwhile, are outsiders in a highly visible way. They are never able to shed this status, which causes loneliness but also seems freeing to Lee at times. Sin-Jun, meanwhile, struggles because she feels like a social pariah in both regards. She is neither white nor American, and speaks highly accented, non-fluent English, meaning her classmates will always question her belonging. Lee herself tends to regard Sin-Jun as less emotionally complex precisely because she cannot express her emotions as clearly in English. Meanwhile, even though she is rich, she realizes that she is gay while at Ault. Since there are no other gay students, at least as far as Lee knows, Sin-Jun also must try to hide her identity, or else risk alienating herself further. These two combined types of isolation might easily lead a person to feel as desperate and lonely as Sin-Jun.
Furthermore, one reason that Lee fumbles her blooming relationship with Dave Bardo is her on-again off-again attachment to the particular Ault norm of not expressing desire. In this case, Lee is very much attracted to Dave—when he places his hands on her shoulders, for instance, she wants nothing more than for him to keep them there. However, Lee isn't sure how to navigate flirtation, which, after all, is often a way to express desire without directly stating it. Lee's social instincts are so muddled and subject to so much overthinking after years at Ault that she cannot simply let herself get close with Dave. Instead she draws close, then worries that he will realize she's flirting and backs away, even while hoping to see Dave again. Of course, much of Lee's resistance comes not only from fear of Dave's judgment but from fear that her classmates will find him unsuitable, since he is a "townie." Even this taboo, though, is subject to the usual minute adjustments of expression based on wealth and background that most Ault interactions are. For instance, Lee knows that Aspeth Montgomery could get away with dating Dave as an ironic statement. She is so wealthy and so clearly "belongs" at prep school that dating Dave would pose no serious threat to her status. If Lee, though, dates Dave, he will be taken seriously as part of her life, and she will be considered more similar to him than to the rest of the Ault community. This idea of ironic dating stems from some of the same values and impulses as the norms surrounding prefect elections. Just as earnestly desiring the position of prefect is considered tacky, earnestly seeking the companionship or love of a working-class person like Dave is considered tacky and can only be made acceptable through irony.
Many of Lee's problems at Ault stem from the school's punishing social environment and her own valid feelings of exclusion due to her working-class, midwestern roots. However, Lee's personality mixes badly with some of the school's social mores, especially the previously discussed preference for cool, ironic distance. Lee naturally avoids conflict and prefers lighthearted, gossipy conversation to intense one-on-one discussions. Of course, most people have a certain degree of discomfort with confrontation or very serious topics, but Lee's grows deeper and harder to overcome as she settles into her role at Ault. This discomfort negatively impacts her experience with Dave, since she feels afraid to directly acknowledge her attraction to him or to tell him about herself. In fact, Dave's candidness and directness make her shrink and hide her own feelings in response. Lee herself explains that she is more comfortable in conversations where one person speaks candidly or emotionally and the other remains more neutral. Once both parties are speaking from a place of raw emotion, she freezes up. In Sin-Jun's hospital room, Lee genuinely cares about her friend, and to an extent also feels curious about her reasons for attempting suicide. But the moment Sin-Jun appears as if she is about to cry, to express strong feelings directly to Lee, Lee leaves the room. She treats Sin-Jun kindly and is able to help her even without honest, clear conversations, but she only learns about Sin-Jun's sexual orientation by accident, and her inability to listen at difficult but crucial moments is detrimental to her.
In a sense, Lee's unwillingness to have open, full conversations is a result of her lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. Since she is afraid of feeling judged, she avoids intense situations, fearing that she will handle them badly and draw attention to herself. Lack of self-confidence drives her to jokingly refer to herself as "the dog" in a conversation with Dave, and this joke is so disturbing to him that it actually ends up drawing additional attention to Lee. The same self-esteem problems cause Lee's conflict with Martha in Chapter Seven. Lee interprets Martha's success as a sign that they are not equals or that Martha will reject her, because her sense of self is so fragile that her friends' triumphs contribute to her insecurity. Meanwhile, Lee barely even tries to study for or pass her math exam. She feels so convinced that she does not deserve to stay at Ault, and that she cannot succeed, that she gives up before she has even truly begun. Sittenfeld wraps up each of these strands with a single resolution: Martha finishing Lee's exam for her. In this way, Martha proves her love for Lee. She values honesty above all else, and so her willingness to help Lee cheat shows that she will not reject or forget her friend. Yet Martha feels heartbroken after violating her own value system in this way. Martha's sadness has an effect on Lee, who sees that others are negatively impacted by her own self-deprecating and self-harming behavior.