by Laurie Halse Anderson
Welcome to art class. Turn on your music, break out your favorite snacks, and start creating fabulous art. Get ready to ask some hard questions about yourself and your feelings. And be prepared to work hard for art and truth.
Mr. Freeman, the cool art teacher, is fond of theatrical, heartfelt speeches, like this one from the first day of class:
"Welcome to the only class that will teach you how to survive […]. Welcome to Art. […] This is where you can find your soul, if you dare. Where you can touch that part of you you've never dared look at before." (4.3-5)
While other classes do actually prove helpful to Melinda, nothing compares to art class.
Art class lets Melinda explore her emotions in a way she finds satisfying and rewarding, if frustrating. Perhaps more importantly, Mr. Freeman a) treats students like intelligent beings, and b) tries to show them the reality of his life, beyond his role as teacher. His rants about the school board might bore Melinda, but she sees Mr. Freeman speaking the truth as he sees it directly to the students, even when doing so could get him into trouble. Whether this is good, bad, or something in between is up for debate.
What's not up for debate is that Mr. Freeman does a few things for Melinda that nobody else is willing or able to do. For starters, he shows her he can relate to her suffering. Take the turkey bone exhibit Melinda creates. Mr. Freeman analyzes it like this:
"I see a girl in the remains of a holiday gone bad, with her flesh picked off day after day as the carcass dries out." (29.14)
Yeah, so Mr. Freeman gets way dramatic, but this is just what Melinda needs at the moment. Mr. Freeman backs up his praise by showing Melinda something about her work she herself might not be consciously aware of. He tells her the truth as best he can. This also means pushing her to do better when her work falls flat. Melinda's the kind of girl who appreciates such honesty, even when it stings.
Mr. Freeman also offers Melinda his ear. After dropping her off at Effert's, the clothing store her mom manages, he says, "You're a good kid. I think you have a lot to say. I'd like to hear it" (58.17). Why is it Mr. Freeman that Melinda ultimately decides to confide in? We're not sure, but here's our best guess: Because he's the only one who asked her to. Seems there might be a lesson in there somewhere.