The conflict between Gretchen and Squeaky is that they both want to win the race.
Winning is very important to Squeaky. She has a complicated life because she has to spend most of her time looking after her brother, Raymond, who is older than her but has a younger mental age. For this reason, she takes a lot of pride in the fact that she is a fast runner. She seems to have a little bit of trouble with the other kids at school, who often tease her because Raymond is different and acts strangely. She likes to participate in the May Day race because it is a chance to shine.
So as far as everyone’s concerned, I’m the fastest and that goes for Gretchen, too, who has put out the tale that she is going to win the first-place medal this year. Ridiculous.
Sqeuaky has a kind of rivalry with Gretchen, another runner. She likes to point out what she sees as inferiority in Gretchen to make herself feel better about her own life, as children will do. For instance, she points out Gretchen’s “short legs” and freckles.
Another point of contention seems to be that Squeaky has few friends. She calls Gretchen’s friends “sidekicks” and none of them are very nice to Squeaky. All of this likely stems from the race rivalry and her brother’s unusual behavior. Children can sometimes be cruel. Squeaky is especially concerned that one of the girls, Mary Louse, used to be her friend and no longer is, and the other one makes fun of Raymond even though she is fat.
Rosie, who is as fat as I am skinny … has a big mouth where Raymond is concerned and is too stupid to know that there is not a big deal of difference between herself and Raymond and that she can’t afford to throw stones.
Squeaky believes that Rosie should not make fun of Raymond because as a fat girl she also gets made fun of and should know better.
On the day of the race, Squeaky (who wants everyone to call her by her real name, Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker), is obsessed with looking for Gretchen. While running the race, she notices her brother racing alongside her and gets excited. Suddenly, she gets some perspective. She realizes that there is more to life than fighting. She decides it doesn’t matter if she wins or not. When she does win, she concedes that Gretchen has some skill.
And I look over at Gretchen … And I smile. Cause she’s good, no doubt about it. Maybe she’d like to help me coach Raymond; she obviously is serious about running, as any fool can see.
They smile at each other, and Squeaky notes that it is a real smile. The rivalry has ended because they have respect for each other. Each one acknowledges that they have accomplished something. Squeaky sees Gretchen as something other than a mean girl, and looks past imagined faults. She sees her as a person.
This story is really a coming of age story about a girl facing real responsibilities before she is able to handle them, and trying to come to terms with them. Trying to take care of an older brother at Squeaky’s age has made her harsh. It has made her shut people out. Seeing Raymond run made Squeaky realize that she could reach him, and it gave her a common ground with which she could reach other people too. Running because her connection to not just Raymond, but Gretchen too. Ironically, one of the things that was keeping them from being friends became what brought them together.