Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

The Constantly Changing Mascot Name

On the first day of school, Melinda announces that the former school mascot (“the Trojans”) has been replaced with the name "Blue Devils" to send a message about abstinence. However, the team's colors don't change from purple and gray, illustrating the change is superficial and meaningless. After Halloween, their mascot becomes the Tigers. Early on in the semester, the students attend a "democratic forum" to choose a new mascot name that doesn't offend animal activists. They become the Wombats for a while until budgetary concerns make them choose the Hornets. When the kids make a chant that includes "horny Hornets," the administration again threatens to change the name, but the students demand to keep the name Hornets. The constantly changing name helps reinforce the idea that most teenagers don't really know who they are yet, that their identities are constantly shifting, and that they are resistant to identities being imposed on them by authority figures. They try on different names and identities like Melinda's friend Rachel who starts calling herself Rachelle. The mascot changes also suggest the adults are more occupied with budget concerns and what the media thinks than what the students want.  


The motif of acting manifests in several different ways throughout the novel. Melinda often explains conversations with her parents as if she is transcribing a play, demonstrating the idea that they are merely acting like a family, and that she doesn’t think they feel like one. Nearly everyone in the story is playing a part, starting with Melinda and the role that has been imposed upon her. Although she is a victim, everyone at school views her as a villain due to the incident over the summer. She can’t bring herself to contradict them, and she has “a whole range of smiles” so she can communicate nonverbally that this role doesn’t bother her. Because of this, she claims herself to be “a good actor.” Similarly, in her mother, Melinda sees a million contradictions. She wants to be, or at least present herself as, the perfect stay-at-home mom, but in reality she has a thriving career that demands all of her time, and neither the time nor the inclination for much else. Finally, Melinda’s attacker Andy Evans plays the part of the popular and well-liked senior even though he has a history of assault and a reputation among many of the girls at school that is far less beloved than meets the eye. All of these instances of playacting suggest that people are never quite what they seem.

Standing Up for Oneself

The idea of standing up for oneself recurs throughout the novel, emphasizing the importance of communicating. What Melinda first notices about David is that he stands up for himself when Mr. Neck tries to silence him during a class discussion. Not only does he speak his mind, he also gets results in the form of a tiny bit of power over the way Mr. Neck runs his class. Melinda chooses to write a report about the suffragettes because she is inspired by their tenacity, and when Mr. Neck demands she present the report orally, Melinda literally protests the unfair treatment. Repeatedly, people are punished for speaking up, such as the suffragettes that get arrested as well as Melinda who gets a D and detention for her protest. However, it is demonstrated that neither the suffragettes in the past, nor Melinda in the present, back down. Although Melinda repeatedly sees people get punished for speaking up for themselves, she keeps trying to speak in different ways until she is heard.