Meet Melinda, our narrator. She's riding the bus to her first day of high school. It's bad. Her old friends won't talk to her, much less sit with her on the bus. The school assembly is worse. Kids are laughing at her. Rachel is with them. Melinda wishes she could tell Rachel, especially Rachel, her secret. Melinda reads Rachel's lips saying "I hate you" (1.11). She wants to cry.
The narrator misses biology class because she can't find it. English class is taught by a woman with "no face" (2.1) whom Melinda calls Hairwoman. Social Studies class is taught by a teacher Melinda calls Mr. Neck. Lunch is bad. The problem of having nobody to sit with is solved when a guy called Basketball Pole hits Melinda with mashed potatoes, causing her to flee. Mr. Neck stops her, and since she can't tell him why she's leaving, she gets in trouble.
Next stop: Art class. Much better. Another old friend, Ivy, is here, but she and Melinda don't make eye contact. Mr. Freeman, the art teacher, says that they are in "the only class that will teach [them] how to survive" (4.3). Everybody pulls slips of paper from a broken globe Mr. Freeman passes around. Whatever is on the paper is what they'll be working on for the year. Melinda's paper says "tree."
School has been in session for two weeks and Melinda has been eating lunch with a girl named Heather and occasionally visiting Heather's home. Heather talks a lot, and Melinda says little. Today Melinda is home after school ordering pizza, since Mom is at work at Effert's, a clothing store. When she hears Dad come home, she slips off to her room. In the mirror across from her bed, she sees she's not looking so good. Her lips are bitten – she can't help biting them – and her mouth doesn't seem like her mouth any more. She puts the mirror in the closet.
Melinda has gym with Heather and Nicole. Nicole used to be in her "clan," the Plain Janes, along with Rachel and Ivy. It's not clear whether Nicole is mad at Melinda, or just too absorbed in her own life to talk to her. One day, Melinda encounters Rachel in the bathroom and tries to talk to her. Rachel, who is calling herself Rachelle, just brushes her off, leaving with a foreign exchange student Melinda calls Greta-Ingrid.
On another day, Melinda is running from Mr. Neck, and she happens on a janitor's closet that hasn't been used in a long time. Perfect hiding place. Sometime after, Heather talks Melinda into going to a pep rally. Some girls recognize her as Melinda Sordino, the girl who called the cops at Kyle Rodgers end-of-the-summer party. She gets poked, kneed, hair-pulled, and pushed down the bleachers before it's all over.
At dinner one night, Mom and Dad get on Melinda's case because they've seen her progress reports, and she can do better. They fight when Melinda leaves the table. Melinda decides to try. She's focusing in science class. Her teacher, Ms. Keen, is pretty brilliant. So is Melinda's lab partner, David Petrakis. Mr. Stetman, Melinda's algebra teacher, is also very smart, but he can't seem to convince the class of why they need algebra.
Heather joins the Marthas, a group dedicated to charity and decorating. The Marthas – Meg, Emily, and Siobhan – make Heather decorate the faculty lounge for Thanksgiving. Heather convinces Melinda to help her. When Siobhan and Emily come into the lounge to check it out, they aren't pleased to see Melinda. Heather says Melinda is the first person at school to talk to her. Siobhan says, "She's creepy. What's wrong with her lips? She looks like she's got a disease or something" (21.19). Melinda escapes to the bathroom, crying. She tries to wash away her facial features.
Sometime after this, Melinda sees a guy she calls "IT." IT is giving Melinda the smile and the wink. Melinda would vomit, except her "lips are sewn together" (22.2). The first section ends with Melinda's report card. She gets an A in Art, a B in Biology, a C and a D in Lunch and Clothes, and Cs in most everything else.
When Mom and Dad see Melinda's report card, they demand that she stay after school for tutoring. She does stay after school, but she tutors herself inside the supply closet she's made her own. Over the mirror, she tapes up a poster of writer Maya Angelou.
Melinda's been having trouble talking lately. She really, really wants to tell her secret, "to hand over the guilt and mistake and anger to somebody else" (24.4). But that won't get rid of the horrible memory. Better she stays in the closet and keeps the awful thing to herself.
One day, Mr. Neck comes to social studies class mad because his son didn't get a job as a firefighter. He blames immigrants and says the US government should have stopped all immigration in 1900. When students challenge him, he shuts down the debate. David Petrakis, Melinda's lab partner, stands up and says, "The Constitution does not recognize different classes of citizenship based on time spent living in the country. […] As a student, I am protesting the tone of this lesson as racist, intolerant and xenophobic" (27.22). (In case you don't know, "xenophobia" is "an unreasonable fear of foreigners.") Then he leaves class.
Thanksgiving is something of a disaster. Mom is really busy at Effert's and she forgets to thaw the turkey. Dad tries to make turkey soup, but they end up ordering pizza. To honor the turkey's sacrifices, Melinda takes its bones to art class. She arranges the bones on a block of wood, like a dinosaur in a museum. Mr. Freeman and Ivy love it.
David's family hires a lawyer and might sue Mr. Neck and the school district. Now, Mr. Neck's classes are videotaped. David is Melinda's "hero" (31.7). As Christmas nears Heather gives Melinda some earrings, and Melinda gives Heather a friendship necklace. Mom and Dad give Melinda charcoal pencils and a sketch pad for Christmas. She's incredibly touched that they've noticed her drawing – but she can't get her voice to thank them.
It's snowy now, so P.E. is held in the gym. They play basketball. Melinda surprises everybody and herself by scoring foul shot after foul shot. Ms. Connors and the basketball coach ask Melinda to tutor the boy's team. She nods yes, but doesn't have any intention of doing it.
Meanwhile, Heather is in charge of making posters for the Marthas, but she doesn't have time. She gets Melinda to agree make them for her. In lab class, Melinda and David are dissecting a frog when Melinda flashes back to her secret, imagining having dirt in her hair. Then she faints. Her plan was to make herself forget by not talking about what happened to her. But she just can't forget.
Melinda works on the posters for the Marthas. She's kind of happy to be doing something nice. Melinda is hanging a poster outside the metal shop room when IT sneaks up behind her and says "Freshmeat" (42.3) in her ear. Of all the girls in school, IT is after her, again. His smell makes her nauseas; she panics, drops the tape and the poster, and runs. Now she knows that IT remembers what he did to her.
Soon Melinda has another run in with IT, who we learn is named Andy Evans. He flirts with the Marthas at lunch, and Melinda is sitting near them. He's been talking to Emily on the phone. Emily doesn't believe the rumors that he's a dangerous guy. He touches Melinda's hair. Melinda runs to the bathroom and vomits. Heather doesn't come to check on her.
This section ends with Melinda's report card. She gets Ds in Attitude and Social Studies, an A in Art, a B in Biology and Cs in everything else.
Melinda starts skipping school – a lot. Her grade in art class remains to be seen. She's trying to make a linoleum carving of a tree, and it's not going well. One day at lunch, Heather tells Melinda they can't hang out anymore. Melinda is too weird and too depressed. She's holding Heather back.
On Valentine's Day there's an envelope on Melinda's locker. She's sure it's a joke, but is excited by the idea that it might be for real. Maybe, it's from David Petrakis. She goes to biology class in suspense. David is nice to her, so maybe it is from him. She opens it up and finds a "sorry" note from Heather and the friendship necklace she gave Heather for Christmas.
Because Melinda keeps skipping school, she has to have a meeting with the guidance counselor, the principal, and her parents. She skips school some more, only to find herself in in-school suspension. Andy Evans is in there too. So, she stops skipping school to avoid being trapped with him.
When Melinda learns about Pablo Picasso's "cubism" (an artistic style), she is inspired and makes much progress with her tree project. But still, Melinda has no friends and eats lunch alone. It's a long cold winter with lots of snow. She spends lots of time sleeping in her supply closet.
One night, Melinda watches the snow from her roof balcony and remembers the end-of-the-summer party. (Flashback alert!) At the party, she drinks three beers, and a really cute senior flirts with her and dances with her. She's happy because she'll start high school with a boyfriend. Suddenly, he's forcing himself on her, covering her mouth with his hand when she tells him no. Afterwards, she finds herself inside the house, calling the police. A girl hears it's the police and freaks out. Somebody slaps her. Rachel glares. Melinda leaves on foot before the cops come. (End of flashback.) Melinda bites right through her lip as she remembers the party. Now, she has to get stitches.
This section ends with Melinda's report card. She has Fs in Social Life, Cloths, Social Studies, and Algebra. She has Ds in Lunch, Biology, English, Spanish, and Gym, and an A in Art.
It's spring now, and there's bad news. Andy Evans is hanging out with Rachel and her friend Greta-Ingrid. On the last day of Spring Break, Melinda goes to the mall and runs into Ivy. They talk, share Life Savers, and draw together. Soon, Melinda learns that Rachel is dating Andy Evans. When Melinda sees them making out in the hall, she feels like her head is a volcano about to erupt. Melinda decides to act – she disguises her handwriting and writes Rachel a note warning her about Andy.
For extra credit, Melinda does a report on the "suffragettes" who risked jail to fight for women's right to vote, own property, and have the same access to education as men. When Mr. Neck tries to make her read it out loud, she refuses, standing up for her right to be silent. Later, David tells her she's missing the point of the suffragette movements. Suffragettes were about speaking in order to gain rights. If people don't speak up, they are "letting the bad guys win" (73.6). David still admires Melinda for standing up for something, but he urges her to "speak up for [her]self" (73.8) so she can "make a difference" (73.8). He also says he might call Melinda sometime, and she says she might answer.
Andy creeps up on Melinda one day when she's in the art room after school. He's looking for Rachel. Soon, Rachel shows up and then leaves with Andy. Ivy tells Melinda that Andy is a dangerous guy, and she can't believe Rachel is going out with him. Melinda is really freaked out, so she walks home, goes to her room, and hides in her closet. She pushes clothes in her mouth, to drown out the sound of her screams. The next day, Melinda has a fever and stays home from school. She watches talk shows and decides that she was indeed raped, and that it wasn't her fault.
One day, Melinda and Ivy are in the bathroom trying to get marker out of Melinda's shirt. Melinda decides to write on the bathroom wall. She writes, "Guys to Stay Away From" (81.22) on the wall. She puts Andy Evans down as number one, then shows Ivy her masterpiece.
Ivy looks pleased. Apparently, Rachel never gets this memo, because Melinda soon hears that Rachel and Andy are going to prom together.
Heather goes over to Melinda's house, trying to get Melinda to help her decorate the prom ballroom. Melinda refuses and Heather leaves, angry and surprised. This motivates Melinda to take a more direct approach. In study hall, she finally tells Rachel about how she was raped. But, when Rachel hears that Andy is the rapist, she accuses Melinda of lying and runs off. After this, Ivy finds Melinda in the hall and takes her to the bathroom. Dozens of girls have written about Andy's attacks on them. Melinda feels like flying.
That Saturday, Melinda revisits the site of her rape. She begins to see herself as a seed breaking through the dirt to grow toward the sun. She knows she can get on with her life now.
The Monday after prom, Melinda learns that Rachel slapped Andy when he touched her wrong while they were dancing. Melinda watches as Rachel and Greta-Ingrid humiliate him in the hall.
Melinda goes to her closet to clean it out. She's been hiding long enough. Drat. She needs her backpack so she can pack up her blanket. Then BOOM! Andy Evans is in the closet with her. He's mad because she's been talking about him. He tries to rape her again. Melinda screams, "NNNOOO!!!" (88.16). She manages to break the mirror with her turkey bone sculpture. She holds a shard of glass to Andy's neck. Nicole and the lacrosse team have heard the commotion and go to get help.
It's the last day of school, and Melinda's drawing her final tree. She thinks this tree is really alive. She knows she'll be back here very soon for summer school. A girl tells Melinda she's sorry about what happened to her and hopes she's OK. Thanks to the lacrosse team, everybody knows what happened between Andy and Melinda. Melinda draws birds flying around her tree. She understands she can't hide. She knows that Andy raped her, and hurt her, and that it isn't her fault in any way, even if she was a little drunk.
The picture is done, and the last bell rings. Mr. Freeman joins Melinda, who is crying a little. He tells her not to cry because salt water isn't good for the art supplies. He tells Melinda that her picture is A+ work. Speak ends with Melinda beginning to tell Mr. Freeman her story.