Chapters 1-4

After the sudden death of her seemingly perfect sister, Julia tries to learn more about her sister's life while negotiating complicated family relationships.
Copy this list to... Buy the Book

Start learning with an activity...

  • Practice

    Answer a few questions on each word. Get one wrong? We'll ask some follow-up questions. Use it to prep for your next quiz!
  • Spelling Bee

    Test your spelling acumen. See the definition, listen to the word, then try to spell it correctly. Beat your last streak, or best your overall time. Spellers of the world, untie!
  • Vocabulary Jam

    Compete head-to-head in real-time to see which team can answer the most questions correctly. Start a Jam and invite your friends and classmates to join!

Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. smirk
    a smile expressing smugness or scorn instead of pleasure
    What’s surprised me most about seeing my sister dead is the lingering smirk on her face.
  2. smug
    marked by excessive complacency or self-satisfaction
    The top half of her face is angry—like she’s ready to stab someone—and the bottom half is almost smug.
  3. meek
    very docile
    Olga was as meek and fragile as a baby bird.
  4. haggard
    showing the wearing effects of overwork or care or suffering
    The bruises and gashes on her cheeks are masked with thick coats of cheap foundation, making her face haggard, even though she is (was) only twenty-two.
  5. mortician
    one whose business is the management of funerals
    Where did they find this mortician, the flea market?
  6. emaciated
    very thin especially from disease or hunger or cold
    Tía complains about the drought the whole ride over. “It’s ruining all the crops,” she says. “The cows are emaciated. People don’t know what to do anymore.”
  7. brittle
    having little elasticity
    The land is definitely drier than I remember. The trees are yellow and brittle.
  8. flail
    thrash about
    I can’t blame him, because when he tried to calm her down a few hours ago, Amá kicked and flailed her arms until she gave him a black eye.
  9. billow
    rise and move, as in waves
    One is wearing a faded and billowy black dress, and the other wears a saggy skirt that looks like an old curtain.
  10. foreshadowing
    the act of providing vague advance indications
    I’ve replayed the day over and over in my head so many times and have written down every single detail, but I still can’t find the foreshadowing.
  11. premonition
    a feeling of evil to come
    When someone dies, people always say they had some sort of premonition, a sinking feeling that something awful was right around the corner.
  12. intrusive
    tending to enter uninvited
    Of course I was lying, but who was she to question my menstrual cycle? How intrusive.
  13. empirical
    derived from experiment and observation rather than theory
    “I’d be very happy to provide you with empirical evidence if you want, even though I think you’re violating my human rights.”
  14. frumpy
    drab, old-fashioned, and unattractive
    She’s been wearing the same loose and frumpy nightgown, and I’m almost positive she hasn’t taken a shower this entire time, which is scary, because Amá is the cleanest person I know.
  15. scald
    heat to the boiling point
    When I was seven, Amá found out I hadn’t showered for five days, so she dunked me in a scalding hot tub and scrubbed me with a brush until my skin ached.
  16. tortilla
    thin unleavened pancake made from cornmeal or wheat flour
    I don’t want to bother my parents because they have enough to worry about, but I’m so hungry and tired of eating nothing but tortillas and eggs.
  17. submissive
    inclined or willing to give in to orders or wishes of others
    I’d rather live in the streets than be a submissive Mexican wife who spends all day cooking and cleaning.
  18. crevice
    a long narrow opening
    After searching every crevice of my room, I manage to find $4.75 in change.
  19. furrow
    make or become wrinkled or creased
    “That’s not true.” Amá furrows her brow.
  20. sap
    a person who lacks good judgment or is easily tricked
    Sometimes I wondered if she’d live with my parents forever like that sap Tita, from Like Water for Chocolate.
  21. inanimate
    not endowed with life
    The stuffed animals on the dresser make me sad. I mean, I know they’re inanimate objects—I’m not an idiot—but I imagine them all melancholic, waiting for my sister to come back.
  22. melancholic
    characterized by or causing or expressing sadness
    The stuffed animals on the dresser make me sad. I mean, I know they’re inanimate objects—I’m not an idiot—but I imagine them all melancholic, waiting for my sister to come back.
  23. sexist
    discriminatory on the basis of gender roles
    Stuff that’s sexist, for example, makes me crazy.
  24. pendulous
    hanging loosely or bending downward
    ...two pendulous burdens I’ve been lugging around since I was thirteen.
  25. maul
    injure badly
    If I went out into the world with naked eyeballs, I’d probably be robbed, run over by a car, or mauled by animals.
  26. riveting
    capable of arousing and holding the attention
    Once, they even went to Great America (how riveting!).
  27. flamboyant
    tending to attract attention; marked by ostentatious display
    In these dreams, I’m a famous writer who wears flamboyant scarves and travels all around the world, meeting fascinating people.
  28. integer
    any natural number or its negative, or zero
    While Mr. Simmons goes on and on about integers, I work on a poem in my journal.
  29. euphoric
    characterized by a feeling of well-being or elation
    I opened my wings and took
    a swim in a warm, euphoric dream
    of hands pressed to faces,
    opened to the mad dancing
    and combusted into a new constellation.
  30. brainstorm
    try to solve a problem by thinking intensely about it
    After some brainstorming and doodling, I decide on the Art Institute, which is one of my favorite places in the whole world.
  31. lavish
    very generous
    The Continental is small but lavish, lots of blue and off-white.
  32. conglomerate
    a group of diverse companies under common ownership
    “Okay, well, can you at least tell me if this hotel is connected to the Skyline? Are they owned by the same company?”
    “Yes, they’re a part of the same conglomerate. Why do you ask?”
  33. bourgeoisie
    the social class between the lower and upper classes
    “Don’t we all have a right to art? Are you trying to keep me from an education? That seems very bourgeoisie, if you ask me.”
  34. somber
    grave or even gloomy in character
    I gasp when I see the woman’s face, because my sister’s eyes are staring back at me. I never paid attention to that expression before—neither joyous nor somber, but as if she were trying to tell me something.
  35. doily
    a small round piece of decorative linen or paper
    On top of that, there are porcelain dolls on doilies on nearly every surface of the house.
  36. tacky
    tastelessly showy
    We may be poor, but at least we’re not this tacky.
  37. matted
    tangled in a dense mass
    When Angie finally comes out of her room, she’s wearing a ratty gray robe and her hair is matted and greasy. Her eyes are bright red, as if she’d been crying all night.
  38. exasperated
    greatly annoyed; out of patience
    I feel exasperated. Maybe this was a mistake.
  39. smother
    deprive of oxygen and prevent from breathing
    Angie doesn’t understand how hard it’s been for me to speak to anyone in my family. She hasn’t seen how the silence and tension have been smothering us for years. She doesn’t get that I feel like a three-headed alien in my own home.
  40. linoleum
    a floor covering
    As I leave her room, Doña Ramona comes rushing toward me, her slippers flap-flap-flapping on the linoleum.
Created on January 23, 2018 (updated September 5, 2019)

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.