In the novel Speak, how does Melinda change as a student?
I don't think that it can be said that Melinda changes as a student over the course of the novel. When the novel starts, Melinda is on her way to the first day of high school. Her first quarter grades are not good, and her grades continue to stay poor from grading quarter to grading quarter. If anything, Melinda's grades actually get worse as her school year goes on. Her parents go through a range of tactics to help. They want to be helpful and encouraging, but their frustrating eventually begins to show, and they become angry at Melinda's increasingly poor grades. Her parents do attempt to have Melinda seek out a tutor, but Melinda doesn't do this. What her parents fail to understand is that Melinda isn't in need of a tutor. She needs a therapist. Short of that, she needs somebody to understand what she went through the previous summer. In her words, Melinda needs "to hand over the guilt and mistake and anger to somebody else." Her emotional turmoil is the reason behind her dwindling grades. It is not until the very end of the book that readers get a sense that Melinda's grades and life as a student will get better. Andy has finally been caught, everybody knows what he did to Melinda, and she begins telling Mr. Freeman her story. She has finally been given the chance to speak.
"You get an A+. You worked hard at this." He hands me the box of tissues. "You've been through a lot, haven't you?"
The tears dissolve the last block of ice in my throat. I feel the frozen stillness melt down through the inside of me, dripping shards of ice that vanish in a puddle of sunlight on the stained floor. Words float up.
Me: "Let me tell you about it."
Although Melinda was once a good student, her schooling takes a serious hit after the trauma of being raped at the house party over the summer. In her freshman year, Melinda does not study, participate, or put in any effort to her academics. Simply put, she does not have the emotional energy to do so.
Rather than acting concerned about her obvious shift in personality (from outgoing and positive to reclusive and moody), Melinda's parents spend a great deal of their time obsessing about her grades and threatening, begging, and bargaining with her to put more effort into her schoolwork.
Nevertheless, about halfway through the novel, Melinda's grades are still horrible: a "D, C, B-, D, C-, C, A," as Ms. Connors points out to her in their meeting, with a GPA of 1.7. Unfortunately, much like Melinda's parents, Ms. Connors fails to see that Melinda is truly suffering and is only interested in improving her grades so that she may draft Melinda to the school's basketball team (another activity Melinda has no interest in).
Ultimately, the only class that truly engages Melinda is Mr. Freeman's art class (which is also the only class she is doing well in). Through her artwork, Melinda finds a way to express her pain and to finally face what happened to her.