Like any teenager, Melinda Sordino is easily distracted -- by cliques, fashion, gossip, classes -- but of course, we also know that considering Melinda's past, she is fighting some demons that can also present themselves as distractions. Whenever she is distracted or disgruntled, however, she always -- purposefully and conveniently...
Like any teenager, Melinda Sordino is easily distracted -- by cliques, fashion, gossip, classes -- but of course, we also know that considering Melinda's past, she is fighting some demons that can also present themselves as distractions. Whenever she is distracted or disgruntled, however, she always -- purposefully and conveniently -- has an outlet through art. It is only in Mr. Freeman's class where she can fully concentrate on the task at hand, perhaps because the act itself frees her.
Towards the beginning of the novel, Melinda seems to be a typical teenager with a sarcastic, yet endearing attitude. We realize that she hates algebra (38), yet the fact that she doesn't understand/can't focus may also be a lack of concentration on her part. We do know that the past has played a large part in her lack of concentration -- just look at the roller coaster of grades at the end of each section. Melinda's lack of concentration throughout the novel doesn't seem to be a dazed sort of "staring into space" like we might say most of us do; rather, when Melinda does not concentrate, it seems rather intentional. She chooses when and when not to concentrate, and she chooses what her focal points of the day -- or of the moment -- will be. I've always interpreted Melinda as a character who purposely distracts herself because that is when she feels control over a situation, unlike the rape incident (when she felt completely helpless and out of control). For example, in classes, she invents stories about her teachers, giving them names like "Hairwoman" and "Mr. Neck." Focusing on their problems -- or their possible problems -- excuses her from dealing with her own.
Perhaps one of the most notable incidents in the novel is when Melinda faints during the frog dissection in class: "My throat closes off. It is hard to breathe...He spreads her froggy legs and pins her froggy feet...A scream starts in my gut...I don't remember passing out" (81). For me, this is the only point in the novel during which Melinda cannot concentrate AND has no control over this loss of focus. Obviously, the act of dissecting this frog reminds her too much of what has happened to her, and she loses control and focus because of it.
Melinda starts skipping school and even goes to the hospital as a "relaxing" place (111). She purposely removes herself from situations that are discomforting to her and recognizes the hospital as a sort of safe haven. Is she not concentrating? Yes. Is it a purposeful loss of concentration? Again, yes.
Finally, Melinda, at times, invents entertaining scenarios to remove herself from a situation. It is evident that her parents have some marital problems/ occasional fights (58-61), and when "Principal Principal" has a meeting with Melinda and her parents, Melinda invents -- in her head -- a sort of musical number in which her parents "sing a show tune" and "perform a tap dance routine" (115). Of course, actions such as these further distance Melinda from a situation that will not resolve itself until she finally deals with it in a constructive manner.
I hope I've answered your question and that it wasn't too long-winded. Here's a citation for the version of Speak that I used:
Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak. New York: Penguin, 2003.