Summary: Chapter 17
Mr. Dimming, the history teacher, has the class participate in a practice quiz for the school’s Whiz Kids team. Every year Spaulding Street Elementary sends a team to the Whiz Kids competition. The first-place team from each region goes to Washington, D.C. for the televised finals. Catherine asks Melody if she wants to take part in the practice round, and she emphatically types yes. Mr. Dimming begins asking questions. At the end of the practice round, Catherine hands Melody’s paper to Mr. Dimming, who is surprised that she participated.
The whole class is stunned when Mr. Dimming announces that Melody scored the highest in the class with a perfect score. Molly questions how Melody can achieve that when she isn’t even able to sit up by herself. She accuses Catherine of helping Melody, which Catherine quickly denies. Catherine speaks up and says that despite how Melody may appear on the outside, she has a fully functioning brain. The class questioning her mind makes Melody feels like crying. Catherine tells her that they are going to study hard so that Melody can be prepared for the quiz team tryouts. Melody is further devasted when Mr. Dimming implies that his questions must not have been hard enough since Melody won the first round. He tells the class that he is going to create extra-hard questions in preparation for the school competition. The whole class cheers except Melody.
Summary: Chapter 18
Melody goes to Mrs. V’s house after school in a sour mood. Mrs. V asks her what happened, but Melody won’t say. She turns off her Medi-Talker and looks the other way. Catherine calls Mrs. V on the phone and explains what happened in Mr. Dimming’s class. Mrs. V hangs up the phone, infuriated. She insists that Melody try out for the quiz team, and states that she is committed to helping her study, practice, and be fully prepared. Melody’s mood starts shifting from sour to enthusiastic and they begin studying. Mrs. V quizzes Melody well into the evening and then calls Catherine to inform her of their plan. Catherine is on board with helping Melody study in school. They study all day in classroom H-5. Melody doesn’t even want to go to her inclusion classes. No one from her other classes checks to see why Melody hasn’t come.
Summary: Chapter 19
Melody spends the next week preparing for the Whiz Kids quiz with Catherine in school, Mrs. V after school, and with her parents in the evening. The time passes quickly and soon it’s the weekend before team tryouts. Melody and Mrs. V are on Mrs. V’s porch when a bird flies by. Mrs. V asks Melody what she would do if she could fly. Melody slowly types that she’s afraid it would feel so good that she would just fly away. Mrs. V tells Melody that she is a bird and will fly when she takes the test. Melody’s mother, Penny, and Butterscotch walk over from next door. As Melody watches Penny, she reflects back on Mrs. V’s question about the bird and points to Penny and types freedom for Mrs. V to see. Mrs. V understands what she means. Melody’s mother praises Mrs. V for working so hard with Melody. Mrs. V points out that Melody learns no differently from Penny. The difficulty is more in other people trying to understand Melody’s thoughts. Melody believes in herself and feels the support of her family and Mrs. V.
Summary: Chapter 20
Melody listens to the morning announcements with excitement as the principal informs students that the tryouts for the Whiz Kids quiz team will take place after school in Mr. Dimming’s classroom. Melody nervously studies all day in room H-5 with Catherine, choosing not to go to inclusion classes again. As soon as the last bell rings, Catherine takes Melody to Mr. Dimming’s room. Rose asks what Melody is doing there, and Melody types up quiz team. Melody hears Claire whisper a derogatory comment about her to Molly and Molly laughs. Melody chooses to ignore them and stays focused.
Mr. Dimming looks slightly disappointed when he notices Melody in the room. While holding the official test questions in hand, he tells Catherine that he does not feel that Melody should be here. Melody is angry that he is speaking as if she isn’t even there. Melody’s Medi-Talker says very loudly that she is there to take the test. Rose encourages Melody. Catherine tells Mr. Dimming that by law, he cannot exclude her from taking the test. Catherine leaves the classroom and Mr. Dimming proceeds with the test instructions. The students, including Melody, take the test. As Melody leaves the room, Mr. Dimming tells her he was not trying to demoralize her, he was only trying to protect her from being hurt.
Summary: Chapter 21
All the students who tried out for the quiz team are busy talking about it the next morning. Melody feels anxious as she and Catherine enter Mr. Dimming’s classroom to hear the names of the students who scored the highest on the test and made the team. He announces the alternates first. Two are sixth graders, Amanda and Elena, and the other two are fifth graders from his class, Molly and Rodney. Then he names the four finalists. All of them are fifth graders in his class: Connor, Claire, Rose, and Melody. He tells the class that Melody got every single question correct. Rose can’t believe it and Claire comments that she will make the team look weird. Mr. Dimming is remorseful for underestimating Melody. He shares with the class that they will have mandatory practices after school up until the first competition. Melody starts getting excited at the thought of being on television. Her arms and legs begin to move wildly. She gestures to Catherine to get her out of there before she draws more attention and Catherine does.
Analysis: Chapters 17–21
In this section, the author continues to develop the theme of Melody’s frustrated desire for freedom. While Melody is always trapped in her wheelchair, Penny is an “escape artist.” Melody envies the way that Penny moves independently between their house and Mrs. V’s, and while Melody must work hard to control her spastic and involuntary movements, Penny can use her body as she wishes. Penny seems to delight in running and climbing, while Melody’s body is a constant source of frustration for her. Melody tells Mrs. V that if she were a bird, she would be afraid that flight would feel so good she would fly away, illustrating her longing for freedom of movement more vividly than ever before. Mrs. V compares Melody’s intellectual possibilities to the bird’s flight, telling her that the quiz team test will be her chance to fly. By studying with Mrs. V and taking the test, Melody’s brain seems to achieve some freedom from her body. However, Melody’s metaphorical flight is brought down to earth by the cruel reactions of people who cannot believe that a brilliant mind can live inside her disabled body.
These chapters demonstrate how other people’s assumptions about Melody’s abilities make school a constant struggle. While Melody achieves high scores on difficult tests, other students and even her teacher diminish her accomplishments because they wrongly assume that someone with a disability can’t possess a powerful mind. Melody gets a sense of satisfaction from taking tests and receiving grades according to her merits, judged by the same standard as everyone else. However, even given an objective measure of her knowledge, Mr. Dimming has difficulty believing that Melody is as intelligent as her scores show. Melody’s appearance causes people to underestimate her abilities, and knowing this, she is self-conscious about things she can’t control, like her occasional drooling, kicking, and spilling of food. Melody is uncomfortably aware that people outside her family and support team still don’t see her as intelligent or capable. Molly and Claire continue to mock her, and Mr. Dimming’s overprotective and belittling comments undermine her reputation with other students. Although Melody makes the quiz team, her moment of triumph is spoiled by others’ focus on her appearance.