The narrator, Domenica Santolina Doone, or Dinnie, tells the reader about her home life and her family. All her life, Dinnie has been forced to travel from place to place because of her father's transient employment. By the age of 12, Dinnie has been raised without roots and without a family outside of her mother and father, although the father is rarely around. She has also been frequently taught that the mother's family cannot be trusted. The grandmother that she knows comments negatively on the family arrangement. She is quite right to do so as it quickly appears that the older sister is pregnant and married, the older son is in prison, the father is away, and the mother is devoted to her husband to the point that she gives up on her own dreams in order to make him happy.
Dinnie has been raised under the false belief that the above scenario is normal for most families. Her father has ensured that she has little chance of growing up psychologically balanced because he has not given her roots. Instead, he has instilled in her and the family that there are things to fear everywhere, including her maternal grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Her mother is by no means immune from responsibility for Dinnie's maladjustment. Rather than have ambitions or utilizing her gifts, she has taught her daughter's that their own dreams and abilities do not matter so long as they have a husband.
Ch. 2: The Dot
Dinnie's aunt and uncle take her from the transient life she knew in America and enroll her in a private school in Switzerland where the uncle is to be a supervisor. Her mother sends her to the aunt and uncle in a cardboard box and she rides along dogs and other animals, rather than as a human being. From the outset, the aunt and uncle treat Dinnie with kindness, such as buying her candy and a book. Yet, she calls them kidnappers and accuses them of violating her "bubble." When she learns that there is no chance of avoiding the trip with her relatives, she decides to bide her time and plan her escape. She does not want the "opportunity" that they are providing her. It does not occur to Dinnie that the aunt and uncle are treating her in a kinder way that she had ever received from her parents.
Dinnie has been raised in an unhealthy environment and although she is very young she has already gotten to a point where she misunderstands the reality of the world. A perfect example is how her mother ships her with the animals and her aunt and uncle have her fly as a person. Even though they are treating her far better than her parents, Dinnie still equates them with kidnappers. They are taking her from the life she knows, for better or for worse. All that matters is that what is to happen is different from what she knows and that automatically makes it criminal in her mind.
Ch. 3: An Opportunity
At the train station in Zurich, Dinnie cannot help but compare her Aunt Sandy to her own mother. She states the Aunt Sandy is better dressed although she sounds and resembles the mother. Further, she compares her father to her Uncle Max. The uncle and aunt have bought her clothes and new shoes and the kinds of things that she could only have dreamed of while impoverished. Also, she compares her journey in the train station with her present situation. Her mother and father had never minded when she wandered off, feeling that she could handle things on her own, but Sandy and Max fear her getting lost, worrying that she might get hurt or separated from the adults. When she realizes that she won't be going home again, she postulates that either she is being punished by her mother or that there is simply no room for her with the new baby.
Children who are abused quite frequently take the side of the abuser and defend that person to the end. This is the case of Dinnie Coone. She cannot comprehend that her parents were bad or inadequate. Her comparisons between Max and Sandy and her parents are psychological tools that she uses to maintain her image of the parents in the face of such obviously more caring individuals. Another hallmark of the abused child is assuming that they are to blame for their mistreatment. Obviously this happens in Dinnie's case because she assumes that being sent to Switzerland was a form of punishment or abandonment.
Ch. 10: Complaints
Lila King is a terribly unkind girl who goes to school with Dinnie. Lila is unpleasant to everyone and consequently she is very much disliked. There are no friends to comfort her when she starts to cry. Unlike Dinnie, Lila has very few people to care about her, if anyone. There is no Uncle Max and no Aunt Sandy to take care of her. She is all alone, or at the very least she feels all alone. It is pity that has Dinnie invited Lila to her home for dinner.
Lila is not a kind person and the reader comes to understand that she is not a typical bully. It is not true unkindness that leads Lila to behave the ways that she does. Rather, it is total and abject isolation. She is what Dinnie could very well have become. Leading the life that she did before Switzerland Dinnie spent quite a great deal of time alone, unless she was with her mother or sister. The rest of the time, she was by herself, just like Lila.
Ch. 11: It's So Rude
Dinnie invites her friend Lila over to dinner. Unlike how her parents may have reacted, Dinnie's uncle and aunt merely accept the situation and prepare for their evening. They do this even though Lila is a frequent complainer and not all together kind or genial. Lila is pleasant until she bursts out about disliking the Japanese. When Aunt Sandy suggests that her complaints may have to do with Japanese culture, Lila demands that the Japanese conform to American ideas, even though they are all in Switzerland. The girl does not care for any persons outside of other Americans it seems and Aunt Sandy and Uncle Max try to make her rethink her perspective. She is racially insensitive and does not seem at all inclined to change her opinion.
Lila is not a kind young lady. She dislikes the Japanese because they will not look at her. Lila is taking Spanish as a foreign language although she decides that she is no longer interested in that because she does not like Spanish people. The Italians are also displeasing to her because they are too flashy. She represents the type of person that Max and Sandy would not like their niece associating with, yet the two adults allow Dinnie to make her own decisions regarding her friends. This is a massive difference between the treatment of her parents and her new living arrangement.
Ch. 23: Downfelling
Lila's personality has changed drastically from the time of her dinner with Dinnie to the point where they returned from St. Moritz. This seems odd to most of the students but not to Dinnie who equates the change with the beauty that they have seen. Only by experiencing the view and the trees first hand could someone understand the impact such a thing could have. While on that vacation, the children had gone skiing and enjoying themselves in the snow. With the pleasure of the vacation, there was also the muscle ache of all the physical exercise. The children frequently tease her about falling down in the snow. However, this does not upset Dinnie at all because it is a kindly form of teasing instead of the antagonistic kind which might happen between enemies.
Lila has stopped being the complaining, unpleasant person from earlier in the novel. Instead, she is pleasant and a much kinder, gentler friend. There is also a pronounced change in Dinnie at this point in the story. She is introspective and she is also more careful about what she sees and how important these visions are. She is learning to be independent and to think for herself. This is very important as it reflects how altered Dinnie is from the subservient girl in the beginning.
Ch. 40: Two Pistols
Dinnie gets the opportunity to see Lila's mother. She is extremely glamorous and wears fur. It is evident that this is an extremely wealthy family. The woman orders the people around whether or not they work for the hotel that they are staying in or if they are just normal people. Dinnie and Uncle Max wind up carrying her bags. She demands to see her daughter and orders everyone around as though she were a queen. Lila has determined to stay with Dinnie and does not want to be…