3. “Please, God, let me learn how to stop being a warrior. Sometimes I just need to be a girl.”

Melba writes this in her diary on her sixteenth birthday, in Chapter 20. All her life, Melba has dreamt of her “sweet sixteen,” imagining it down to the last detail. Her real sixteenth birthday, however, turns out to be very different from her daydreams. Though she has planned a party with all of her friends from her old high school, only Vince shows up. Everyone else has decided not to come because they are too afraid to be seen with Melba. They all go to another party, and they don’t want Melba to come because they want to have a good, safe evening. Eventually, even Vince leaves for the other party, and Melba cries herself to sleep.

This party is Melba’s last effort to prove that the fight at Central High School is not her whole life. She tries to surround herself with friends who know nothing about the battle for integration. When Melba writes that she sometimes needs to just be a girl, she is trying desperately to cling to the innocence that’s been slipping away throughout the year. Sadly, her dream of a sweet sixteen is crushed. When nobody shows up, Melba is forced to confront the fact that she has changed. Having accepted the role of a warrior for integration, Melba finds that she can’t put it aside so easily. She learns that being a warrior means more than just venturing into new and hostile territory. It also means leaving behind old pleasures and friends. It means that she can no longer indulge in just being a girl.