At the beginning, the narrator tells us that most parents think their children are brilliant, and teachers have to set the record straight when grades come out. The Wormwood family is, well, the opposite. If any parents ever had the right to brag about a child, it would be the Wormwoods.
Meet Matilda, the Wormwoods' daughter. She's a prodigy who can read and do math like a genius, and she's only five. She really is special. But the Wormwoods couldn't care any less about their daughter, and the more we get to know them, the more we realize that this family situation is less than ideal.
As the initial setup shows us, Matilda is an awesome, smart kid. But her family doesn't see that. When she displays signs of her intelligence, no matter how modestly, her father gets furious, so she decides to get back at him by playing an embarrassing prank on him each time he's mean to her.
If you were thinking that school might be a nice break from all the torture at home for Matilda, well, you'd be wrong. At school, Matilda (like all the other students) has to deal with the horrible Trunchbull. In fact, the Trunchbull is so terrible that she brings out the best in Matilda—her telekinetic powers.
But all these pranks can't last forever. Matilda's parents and the Trunchbull just get meaner and meaner and meaner. Something's gotta give.
Matilda is working extra hard to prepare her biggest and greatest prank to date. But we don't know what it is. We know she's going to use her telekinetic powers, and she's going to try to take down the Trunchbull, but otherwise we'll have to wait and see how it all goes down.
And then it does. And it's awesome. In this climactic scene, she uses her telekinetic powers to threaten the Trunchbull in chalk on the board in her classroom. When the Trunchbull passes out, we dare you not to let out a whoop of joy. This is the height of the action in the book, and the height of our spirits as we root for Matilda.
At this stage, most of the loose elements of the plot fall tidily back into place, as the good are rewarded and the bad punished. (Except for Mr. Wormwood.) It's like the past decade or so of Miss Honey's life is being erased, as she gets to move back into her family home and gets all the money that was rightfully hers. And, now that the Trunchbull is gone, Matilda can skip a few grades and finally be challenged in school. We're winding everything up, it seems, except those pesky parents are still in the picture. Ugh. We really dislike the Wormwoods.
Yep, Matilda is still stuck with her icky parents. Miss Honey and Matilda, who seemed destined to be a family of their own, are still apart. When Matilda's family heads to Spain, though, these two peas in a pod finally get to be together. And neither one of them has to think about their gross former families ever again. The bad are splitsville, the good are rewarded, and everyone (well, everyone who matters) lives happily ever after.