Rachel was the protagonist’s best friend from elementary school through middle school. She is the one person that Melinda wishes she could talk to. However, Rachel believes that Melinda ruined her summer because of the police raid on the last party before school resumed.
Rachel hangs out with foreign exchange students at school. She takes up the habit of pretending to smoke candy cigarettes to give her a more European flair. When Melinda runs into Rachel in the girls’ bathroom, Rachel responds to Melinda’s statements with grunts or foreign phrases. Melinda learns that Rachel changes the spelling and pronunciation of her name to Rachelle, to sound more French.
When Melinda sees Rachel falling for Andy, Melinda wants to warn her. Melinda finally gets up the courage to do so, but Rachel thinks Melinda is jealous. However, it is because of Melinda’s warning that Rachel finally sees who Andy really is. When he becomes too sexually aggressive at the prom, Rachel is strong enough to resist him. There is no statement in the novel that Rachel and Melinda mend their relationship, but Melinda does notice that after the prom, Rachel has taken an interest in one of the male foreign exchange students, which Melinda applauds.
Melinda has only a surface relationship with both her parents. However, she appears to be closer to her father. They have an unspoken understanding of one another, which usually means they leave one another alone. Melinda often comes home to an empty house, eats her dinner alone, and then retreats upstairs to her room. Later, when her father returns home, Melinda listens to the sounds he makes and tries to guess what he is doing, such as microwaving his dinner, pouring himself a drink, turning on the television. They seldom speak to one another. Melinda’s attitude toward life, in many ways, mimics her father’s style. This is exposed on Thanksgiving when after Melinda’s mother must abandon dinner plans to go to work, her father throws the turkey in the trash after unsuccessful attempts at cooking it. They order pizza instead of eating the traditional meal, which pleases both of them. It appears that her father is only vaguely aware of who Melinda is, what she is doing with her life, and what she is feeling. Her father is oblivious to the signs of her depression.
Andy Evans is a handsome, well dressed senior at Merryweather High School. Girls are very much aware of him and would give anything to go out with him. At least this is true in the beginning of the year, especially among the freshmen girls. Andy appears to enjoy hanging with the freshmen, and one can assume that he is preying on their innocence.
Melinda, in her secret thoughts, refers to Andy as It. She is very reluctant to say his name. Andy comes up to her, at one point in the story, and plays with her ponytail as he talks to some of the other freshmen girls. He appears unaware that he has done anything damaging to Melinda. He eventually latches on to Rachel, Melinda’s ex-best friend. When he discovers that Melinda has told Rachel about what he did to her, Andy corners her in the janitor’s closet. He tells her that she wanted to have sexual relations with him at that summer party and should not be spreading rumors otherwise. He then tries to force himself on Melinda again. When Melinda fights back, Andy gets angry. Melinda yells out for help and is able to escape from Andy. Nothing is said, however, about what happens to Andy after that. Readers are left in the dark in reference to whether Andy is punished for his crime.
Mr. Freeman is an art teacher at Merryweather High School. Melinda initially describes Mr. Freeman as being ugly. He reminds her of a grasshopper or a circus entertainer walking on stilts. He has a big nose and talks a lot. As the story progresses, though, Mr. Freeman becomes Melinda’s favorite teacher. She cannot believe he can get away with teaching his class the way he does because it is so much fun. Mr. Freeman encourages his students to reach down deep inside of themselves to find secrets they have never before realized they possess.
Mr. Freeman is also a father figure for Melinda. Throughout the story, it is Mr. Freeman who notices that Melinda is troubled and attempts to get her to open up. He encourages her art and praises her for her attempts. He tells her that he is always available should she want to talk. When words fail Melinda, Mr. Freeman implies that her emotions can be expressed through her projects. At the end of the story, in the final lines, the author suggests that Melinda goes to Mr. Freeman and begins to tell him her story.
Hairwoman is the nickname that Melinda gives to her English teacher. Hairwoman is so named because she uses her dark, long hair, whose ends are dyed bright orange, to hide behind. She seldom gives her students eye contact. When she talks to them, her head is often bowed toward her desk, or she is turned toward the blackboard or the flag.
Heather is a new student at Merryweather High School. When she finds Melinda sitting alone, she assumes that Melinda is also new at the school. Melinda describes Heather as having a mouth full of braces, being in good physical shape, and talking way too much. However, Melinda welcomes Heather’s company, at first. It is better than standing alone.
Heather needs to set goals for her future life in school. Melinda tolerates Heather, which makes Heather believe that Melinda agrees with her. Heather chooses the best clubs at school and makes every effort to be accepted. She takes on projects that are too big for her and then drags Melinda in on them, insisting that Melinda do some of the dirty work. In the end, after Melinda refuses to do any more work for her, Heather comes to Melinda and says that their relationship is not working out and should end. They have little in common, Heather says, and besides, Melinda’s attitude is too negative. Heather returns a friendship necklace Melinda gave her and thanks Melinda for being so understanding.
Ivy was not one of Melinda’s close friends in middle school, but they did hang out from time to time. When Melinda finds Ivy in her art class, she tries to make contact with her, but Ivy does not notice. It is not until Melinda brings to class her unusual sculpture made with turkey bones that Ivy takes an interest. Ivy praises Melinda for her creativity and tells her, when Melinda becomes frustrated with her projects, that she is a good artist and should continue with her work.
Melinda believes that Ivy is the better artist, and she remarks on Ivy’s good personality, a trait that makes it easy for Melinda to like her. Ivy goes looking for Melinda one day when Melinda abruptly leaves class. She finds Melinda in the girls’ bathroom. While there, Melinda opens up a little about her feelings about Andy. Ivy joins in the conversation, telling Melinda that she is disgusted about how Rachel is falling all over Andy. Melinda is impressed that Ivy has noted the flaws in Andy’s personality. She is also moved that Ivy was concerned enough to come looking for her, making sure that Melinda was all right.
Ms. Keen is Melinda’s biology teacher. Very little is said about this particular teacher except for the strange clothes she wears. Melinda does not complain very much about Ms. Keen’s teaching methods or the subject matter. In other ways, Ms. Keen is a nondescript teacher whom Melinda does not despise.
Melinda’s mother is just the opposite of her daughter. Melinda states that her mother not only is fearless, she goes out of her way to confront dangerous situations. Her mother manages a store downtown in a dangerous district. She is often called away from her family to confront ongoing challenges and thus is seldom home. Melinda’s mother is different in other ways too. She wants Melinda to buy clothes that Melinda does not feel comfortable with. The two of them have little in common. Melinda’s mother is so busy, she hardly notices that Melinda is in emotional pain. She thinks that Melinda is rebelling against some unknown cause. She does not understand why Melinda is so quiet and why she is doing so poorly at school. Her solution is punishment, which does not work. Melinda is impressed, though, when her mother buys her art supplies for Christmas. She is pleased that her mother at least took a little time to notice her.
Mr. Neck, so called because Melinda sees him as a jock with a neck thicker than his head, is her social studies teacher. Mr. Neck makes statements about how well he knows students. When he first sees Melinda, he dubs her a troublemaker and pursues her in the halls, handing out demerits and other punishments when she fails to turn in a pass. Melinda paints Mr. Neck as arrogant and hypocritical. She also praises her fellow student, David Petrakis, for standing up to Mr. Neck’s hypocrisy in class.
Nicole is briefly mentioned as another of Melinda’s former friends. Nicole is an excellent athlete, the opposite of Melinda. She is a star soccer player, looked up to by even the male athletes. Gym teachers praise Nicole for her gifts. Nicole is neutral as far as friendship with Melinda is concerned. She neither shuns her nor goes out of her way to communicate.
David Petrakis shares a lab table with Melinda in biology class. He shows signs that he is unaffected by the gossip that surrounds Melinda. Meanwhile, Melinda sometimes finds herself daydreaming about David as a potential boyfriend. One day, David invites Melinda to a pizza party at his house. Melinda is flattered, but she is also frightened by the proposal. She refuses the invitation because she is concerned he might merely want to lure her into another bad situation in which she might not be able to defend herself. David thus portrays some of the difficulties that Melinda faces in developing future intimate male relationships. As the story progresses, David grows on Melinda. He becomes her hero after he stands up to Mr. Neck’s insulting behavior.
Melinda is the protagonist of this story. She was thirteen years old when she was sexually attacked at a summer party. She has kept this a secret from everyone, and it is eating her up inside. All that her parents know about this is that Melinda has suddenly become very quiet and her interest in school has begun a huge downward spiral. Melinda’s friends only know that Melinda was at the party and while there called the cops. This caused trouble for many of the students who were there. Many were underage drinkers. Some lost their jobs because of this. Now, everyone at school shuns her.
Melinda has kept the attack a secret because she is ashamed. She feels she brought it on herself, even though she tried to fight the boy off. Much of the story is told from inside Melinda’s head. There is very little dialogue with friends or family. Melinda lives through her feelings of self-doubt and the forced isolation that her secret has brought on.
Melinda’s grades disintegrate as she cannot focus on her schoolwork and often skips class. All her energies are focused on keeping her emotions from exploding out of her. An abandoned janitor’s closet becomes her refuge when she senses she is losing control of her fears and anxieties. She often wishes she could talk to someone, but she does not know how to start. She fears that other people will think she is despicable. Her parents are always too busy. Her friends have made it clear they already hate her. In the end, she finds her voice. She is able to refuse Heather’s demands. This gives her the courage to stand up to Andy when he tries a second attack. Then she is ready to talk, to tell someone what really happened that night.
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Novels for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 31, Laurie Halse Anderson, Published by Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010.