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Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Secrets and alienation are the dominant themes in thirteen- going on fourteen-yearold Melinda Sordino's account of her miserable freshman year in high school. Silence dominates her life. Due to a recent traumatic experience and subsequent ostracism based on uninformed perceptions, Melinda publicly is almost completely mute. When she begins school, her pain is fresh and "My throat squeezes shut, as if two hands of black fingernails are clamped on my windpipe." She lives in solitude and isolation both at school and home. Privately, she engages in a dynamic inner monologue in which she generates a constant commentary about the people and situations that she encounters, though her interactions with these characters and events are minimal and unsatisfactory.

Melinda's thoughts vocalize her observations about the hypocrisy and lies of both students and adults and reinforces her desire to be mute. Her monologue varies from being serious to sarcastic or humorous and reveals ideas and opinions that she would not dare to divulge publicly. She cynically wonders if there really is a "Permanent Record" which follows students and faculty throughout their lives, perhaps showing her unspoken worry that her rape has ruined her reputation. She laments, "Sometimes I think high school is one long hazing activity: if you are tough enough to survive this, they'll let you become an adult. I hope it's worth it." Melinda is intelligent and witty, calling school orientation "indoctrination," but is disenfranchised. No one appreciates her except for her art teacher.

Melinda hints of having previously led a normal teenage life, mall crawling, socializing at the lake and pool, and talking on the phone. In contrast, after she made a panic stricken 911 call which abruptly ended a party and was a catalyst for her peers' wrath, she walked home alone initiating her exile, showered until the hot water was depleted to purge physical remnants of the rape, then cloistered herself inside her house and watched "bad cartoons," which represents her withdrawal due to being in shock. Melinda is blamed for bringing law enforcement to a party where most of the teenagers were illegally drinking and some were arrested. The insecure Melinda passively accepts others' cruel decision to punitively make her an outcast within her high school society while quietly guarding her secret. Perhaps she feels guilty for being drunk and somewhat responsible for the attack occurring. She loses confidence in herself and exhibits self-hatred. While her thoughts have clarity, when Melinda does talk aloud, her words are often disconnected and incoherent. She epitomizes how most of the novel's characters are inarticulate in some way. "It is easier not to say anything," Melinda explains because "Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say."

Instead of making her problems disappear, silence perpetuates hostility and exclusion. At a pep rally, a student whose brother was arrested at the party obscenely demeans Melinda. Unable to cope with this constant assault, in addition to the normal academic and social pressures of high school, Melinda ignores hygiene, not bathing and wearing unwashed clothes. She bites her lip until its bleeds and sometimes needs stitches as if to prevent herself from speaking and saying something wrong or inappropriate. Melinda's grades drastically drop because she cuts classes and does not complete assignments. Physical ailments plague Melinda. She suffers a stomachache on her first day of school. By keeping her secret, her pain intensifies. Melinda reveals that, "It's getting harder to talk. My throat is always sore, my lips raw. When I wake up in the morning, my jaws are clenched so tight I have a headache." She wishes she could be wrapped in a new skin like a burn victim.

Emotionally, she is depressed because she represses her anger, and she has unseen psychological wounds and scars. Melinda views most males as "predators" and considers herself a "wounded zebra." She is...

(The entire section is 3,467 words.)