The phrases “not good enough”, “not smart enough”, “not pretty enough”, which are repeated throughout the poem, render a powerful effect on the reader. These phrases are repeated over and over again, to impress upon the reader the gravity of the girl’s abuse by her parents, who seemed to have little appreciation for their daughter’s small but significant accomplishments. No one had ever brought it to her attention that she was doing a good job, or that she looked pretty, or that she was smart. After all, she was smart and capable, but only a fraction shy of a perfect grade sheet.
Further, she apologizes to her parents. She feels sorry for disappointing her parents. She thinks this could have been avoided if she would have been less lazy, which is not true. Irrespective of her efforts to please her parents she always felt she fell short and was not good enough in the eyes of her parents. This leads her to imagine how perfect life would have been had she been born a boy, with broader shoulders that can weather any challenge. Would that have given her more parental attention? Would it have made her parents satisfied? Or, would it have lessened their expectations of her?
The depths of her despair can be seen in these lines:
“Each failure, a glacier.
Each disapproval, a bootprint.
ice above my river.”
The poem could be summarized thus: The poem describes the emotions and true feelings of a young girl student who thinks that suicide is the only way left for her to please her parents and others and escape the pressures of student life. The note has an apologetic quality to it, which is her way of acknowledging her imperfection and not fulfilling her parent’s expectation of a perfect 4.0 grade. Whatever effort she puts in, she can never satisfy her parents for their expectation are unreasonably high. Her parents’ words repeat in her mind – “not good enough not pretty enough not smart enough.” At that moment she genuinely wishes she were born a son, which would have equipped her better in dealing with the challenges of her life. The words “Each disappointment, ice above my river” indicate that she is fully sapped of enthusiasm after those ‘perceived’ failings. She feels that she will never find success in school, and she is never able to please her parents. Therefore, she jumps to the conclusion that suicide is the only way she will be rid of all this torment.