Summary: Fourth Marking Period, Part 1 (Exterminators – Advice from a Small Mouth)


Many parents disapprove of the new school mascot, because of a cheer that has surfaced, which ends in “we are the hornets, the horny, horny, hornets! (and on and on and on).” The Hornet Hustle also contributes to the campaign to change the name. But the student council pushes back. Apparently, they like their “Hornetdom.”

The Wet Season

Spring is here, and seniors are receiving their acceptance letters for college and preparing for graduation. Melinda attends most of her classes, most of the time. Andy “Beast” joins the International Club and flirts with Rachel/Rachelle, who reciprocates.

Spring Break

Melinda runs into Ivy at the mall toward the end of spring break. Ivy, who’s been working on clown faces as part of her art class theme, is sketching faces of the kids in line for face painting. She hands Melinda the sketchbook. Melinda tells her the drawings look kind of spooky, in an unexpected, but not creepy way. Unsure of what to say next, Melinda offers Ivy a Lifesaver, and tells her it might have been a mistake to sign up for art. Ivy encourages her to ditch the linoleum block idea and instead just draw. She hands Melinda the sketchbook. Melinda sketches, and Ivy tells her that she’s off to a great start.


The biology class has moved on to the study of genetics. Melinda observes that there’s nothing about sex in the unit. Apparently, that’s an eleventh-grade topic. Her mind wanders and she remembers how she used to pretend she was adopted, and her “real” parents were a king and queen, which would make her a princess. She sketches a willow tree, and when Ms. Keen announces there will be a quiz the next day, realizes she’ll have to ask David if she can copy his notes.

My Life as a Spy

Melinda discovers that Rachel/Rachelle has gone to the movies with Andy Beast. Even though Rachel is her ex-friend, Melinda is worried about her. She sees Andy kiss Rachel in “not a Girl Scout” way and shivers.

Thin Atmosphere

Melinda retreats to the closet, her burrow, and wonders what she should do. Could she tell Greta, or Ingrid, Rachel’s foreign exchange friends? She decides to write an anonymous note, warning Rachel to be wary of Andy, who, it is rumored, attacked a ninth grader. 

Growing Pains

Mr. Freeman criticizes the tree Melinda has been struggling with. Frustrated, she throws the linoleum block in the trash. Mr. Freeman brings her Kleenex and tells her there’s no such thing as a perfect tree, in fact nothing is perfect, and that flaws are interesting. He suggests that she “be” the tree.

Gag Order

Mr. Neck and his lawyer have met with David Petrakis’ lawyer, the result being David has free rein to say whatever he wants in the class, but Mr. Neck is stricter than ever, failing most of the class. Melinda writes an essay about suffragettes (women who fought for women’s right to vote). She says it is the best report she’s done, and hands it in on time. Mr. Neck tells her she’ll present it orally the next day.

No Justice, No Peace

The thought of giving an oral report terrifies Melinda. She and David Petrakis devise a plan. Before class, she writes a note on the blackboard that expresses how the suffragettes stood up for their beliefs, and withstood attacks, arrests, and jail time to do so. She writes, “I am willing to stand up for what I believe. No one should be forced to give speeches. I choose to stay silent.” She tapes her suffragette poster over the note. When class starts, she rips down the poster, reveals the note, and hands out printed copies of her report to each student. Mr. Neck gives her suspension and a D, but she doesn’t regret what she’s done.

Advice from a Smart Mouth

David and Melinda debrief what happened with the oral report. Their conversation borders on flirtatious, and David tells her that he might call her over the summer.

Analysis: Fourth Marking Period, Part 1 (Exterminators – Advice from a Small Mouth)

The motif of growth continues in this section, symbolized by the emergence of spring and catalyzed by Melinda’s art. Melinda continues to work on her tree project, and hangs the drawings in her closet, symbolizing her internal work on herself in these chapters. Art also becomes a way for Melinda to reconnect to her friend Ivy, suggesting the ability to authentically connect with another person is a sign of Melinda’s growth. Up until now, Melinda has repeatedly thrown out trees and tried to start from scratch, but Ivy encourages her growth by suggesting she sketch her tree instead of sculpting it. Mr. Freeman also encourages Melinda’s growth in this section, both by prompting her to improve her tree by embodying it, and by showing attention to her feelings when his comments upset her. The ability to connect with others and express herself signifies Melinda's progression away from silence and toward finding her voice.

Melinda finds herself increasingly able to express herself in this section, emphasizing the central theme of communication. Melinda’s decision to warn Rachel about Andy’s predatory behavior represents a significant development in her ability to express herself. Although the warning she leaves is anonymous, the fact that she has the courage to leave the note at all shows significant growth. The motif of democracy underscores this theme when Melinda writes a report on the suffragettes. Mr. Neck once again represents a silencing force when he requires Melinda to present her report orally, knowing that Melinda has trouble speaking. Melinda’s protest the next day channels the suffragettes’ courage, suggesting that she has finally found the courage to stand up to bullies. It is no wonder the struggle of the suffragettes appeals to Melinda at this point in the novel, just as her ability to express herself strengthens.