Summary: Second Marking Period, Part 2 (Hard Labor – My Report Card)

Hard Labor

For the rest of winter break, Melinda goes to work for her parents, at her mother’s store, in the basement stockroom, and at her dad’s insurance office. She’s angry at them for forcing her to work and is relieved when school starts again. 


While playing basketball during gym class, Melinda impresses the coach with her free-throw shooting skill. Nicole, the athlete extraordinaire, even compliments her. Melinda has zero interest in playing on the basketball team, and her poor grades prove prohibitive anyhow. Melinda watches the boys practice. Basketball Pole, whose real name is Brendan Keller, can’t make a free-throw to save his life. He was the one who had bullied Melinda on the first day of school, decorating her with mashed potatoes. The coaches contrive a plan. If Melinda teaches Brendan how to shoot a free-throw, she’ll get an automatic A in gym class. Melinda decides she just won’t show up. 

Coloring Outside the Lines

Melinda continues to struggle with her tree concept in art class. She tries carving a tree out of linoleum, but laments she can’t “bring it to life.” Meanwhile, Mr. Freeman continues working on his own project, which has been highlighted in the local paper. It’s a protest piece against the school board, which has significantly reduced funding for his art classes. Several board members are somewhat recognizable in his painting. 

Poster Child 

At Heather’s request, Melinda goes to her house after school. Melinda “zones out” as Heather rants about her attempts to become a fully initiated Martha. Melinda agrees to help Heather with the posters for a food drive. 

Dead Frogs

In biology, the room no longer smells like apples as the class is dissecting frogs. David, Melinda’s lab partner, takes charge, but it’s Melinda’s job to slice open the belly. The frog doesn’t say a word – as Melinda thinks, “She’s already dead.” Melinda doesn’t remember passing out or hitting her head on the way down. As the doctor stitches up the gash, Melinda worries that the doctor might be able read the secret thoughts inside her head.

Model Citizen

Heather has a new job, modeling for a department store. Heather asks Melinda to go with her to the bathing suit shoot. But when the photographer repeatedly encourages Heather with, “Sexy, sexy, very cute. … Sexy, think beach, think boys,” it creeps Melinda out. 

Death by Algebra

In algebra class, Mr. Stetman tries to legitimize algebra by sharing a Real-Life Application. Today’s attempt involves calculating a sustainable guppy breeding population for a pet store. Melinda can barely pay attention.

Word Work

Hairwoman continues to assign essays in English class, topics which, Melinda admits, are fun. But the essays keep coming, one after the other, and she’s trying to sneak grammar in as well. “Words are hard work,” Melinda decides.

Naming the Monster

Melinda works on the posters for Heather’s Martha project for two weeks. While hanging them around the school, IT creeps up behind her and whispers, “Freshmeat.” He remembers and he knows, Melinda realizes. She wants to throw up. 

Rent Round 3

Melinda’s parents receive a call from the school guidance counselor about grades, which precipitates a battle at dinner that night. After a verbal assault from her parents, Melinda goes to her room where she scrapes her wrist with a bent paper clip. The next morning, her mom, seeing Melinda’s wrist, tells her, “I don’t have time for this, Melinda,” adding that suicide is for cowards.

Can It

While sitting at lunch with Heather in the cafeteria, Siobhan, a member of the Marthas, approaches. She tells Heather that her little brother could have done a better job than she did on the posters. Melinda listens to the back and forth, and Heather doesn’t defend Melinda. Meanwhile, the girls notice Andy Evans approaching. Melinda turns to look. Andy Evans is IT. He comes up behind Melinda and flirts with Emily. Then, he begins to play with Melinda’s ponytail, twirling it. Mumbling something “idiotic,” Melinda runs for the bathroom and vomits. No one comes looking for her.

Dark Art

Mr. Freeman is in trouble for not keeping paperwork and for giving out 210 A’s. He has stopped working on his own project. Meanwhile, Melinda starts a new linoleum block, but accidentally cuts herself with the chisel. While Melinda stops the bleeding with Kleenex, Mr. Freeman cleans the chisel, and pauses in front of his own canvas before slashing and destroying it. 

My Report Card

Melinda’s report card shows two D’s, six C’s, one B, and an A in Art.

Analysis: Second Marking Period, Part 2 (Hard Labor – My Report Card)

The motif of disengaged authority figures recurs throughout the novel in scenes with Melinda's parents, teachers, and guidance counselors. In this particular section, these characters focus on Melinda’s behavior but not the root cause of it. Melinda's parents take her to work with them during winter break to keep her busy, shout at and punish her for poor grades, and when Melinda intentionally cuts herself, her mother’s response is anger and dismissal. All of these actions imply that her parents’ inability to recognize Melinda’s behavior as a cry for help contributes to her continual silence, reinforcing the central theme of communication. In contrast, Mr. Freeman is the only adult in Melinda’s life who responds to her attentively and compassionately. When Melinda cuts her finger in art class, he tends to her and asks after her wellbeing. In this section, Mr. Freeman’s conflict with authority figures parallels Melinda’s similar struggles. Ironically, he is punished by the school board and principal for connecting with his students and providing them with a safe place to express themselves.

This section builds toward answering the central question of the novel: What happened to Melinda and why can’t she speak about it? The motif of physical trauma responses helps to answer this question when Melinda faints in biology class. The act of dissecting the frog triggers Melinda’s traumatic memories as she identifies with the frog being cut open while lying on its back and recalls the smell of dirt and leaves in her hair, implying that she was attacked. IT is finally named as fellow student Andy Evans and his presence often triggers physical trauma responses in Melinda: she bites her lips and nails, becomes paralyzed by silence, runs when he speaks to her, and vomits when he touches her. Andy’s intentional intimidation of Melinda as she hangs posters suggests that he enjoys the emotional and physical power he holds over her. Other details that foreshadow Melinda’s eventual revelation include Heather’s modeling photoshoot. The photography shoot, encouraged by Heather’s mother, symbolizes the socially accepted sexualization of young girls. The fact that the photoshoot makes Melinda deeply uncomfortable alongside Andy’s more frequent appearances hint that Melinda’s trauma has to do with sexual assault.