Melinda decides that she needs a mental health day and takes strides to fake sickness. When her mother takes her temperature, Melinda is surprised to find that she actually has a fever. She stays home from school with a 102.2 temperature and imagines various talk show hosts speaking to her. They all tell her she was raped and that she needs to speak up. Melinda wishes for anything to get rid of the whispers in her mind.
May finally brings warm weather to Syracuse. Melinda notices that her yard is a mess and decides to clean it up—a significant undertaking. Her father is impressed with her work and invites her to the hardware store. Melinda refuses but asks him to buy her some seeds.
Melinda’s gym class begins a unit on tennis. Because Melinda has experience playing tennis, she is matched up with her athletic former friend, Nicole, to demonstrate a game for the class. After a close match, Melinda loses but remembers how much she enjoys the game. She considers asking her father to practice with her.
Hairwoman shocks Melinda’s by shaving her head and dying her hair black. Some students wonder if she made the change to confuse them while they were working on their final essays. Melinda think it’s a good sign.
In art class one day, Ivy accidentally draws on Melinda’s shirt with marker. Melinda is excused to the bathroom to scrub the stains. Ivy enters the bathroom several minutes later. She explains that Mr. Freeman sent her to make sure that Melinda was not planning on running off in the middle of class. Ivy tells Melinda that she will wash her shirt, and instructs her to take it off and stand in the stall while she does so. The girls discuss Rachel’s personality change from last year and Melinda begins to read graffiti on the bathroom stall. Melinda asks Ivy for a marker and writes on the wall: “Guys to Stay Away From.” The only person she lists is Andy Evans.
As prom season approaches, the school falls into a frenzy of preparation. Melinda hears that Rachel is going to prom with Andy Evans. It makes her feel ill. Heather once again comes to Melinda’s door begging for help. She whines about the Marthas and says that they take advantage of her and do not appreciate her. They have asked her to decorate the Holiday Inn ballroom for prom, and she only has a few hours to do it. Heather asks Melinda if she knows anyone who can help. When Melinda does not respond, Heather assumes that she has volunteered for the job. She thanks her excitedly and tells her she will help her redecorate her bedroom. Melinda finally finds the words to say no and tells Heather that she will not help her with prom, and does not want her assistance in redecorating. Heather storms out of the house without saying goodbye to Melinda’s mother.
Melinda decides that she has to talk to Rachel about Andy Evans. She follows her to the library after English class and sits next to her. Melinda begins a conversation with her and they soon turn to the topic of Andy. When the librarian tells the girls to be quiet, Melinda continues the conversation on a notebook. She asks Rachel if she is still angry with her. When Rachel says that it was stupid of Melinda to call the police, Melinda tells her she was raped. Rachel is concerned until Melinda names Andy Evans the perpetrator. Rachel springs out of her chair, calls Melinda a jealous liar, and leaves the library.
Later that day, while putting off going home, Ivy approaches Melinda and tells her to follow her to the bathroom. She leads her to Melinda’s graffiti about Andy Evans. Melinda is thrilled to see numerous other girls, in different pens and handwriting, also label Andy a sleaze and a creep.
That Saturday, Melinda wakes up to the sound of arborists trimming her oak tree’s dead branches. A passing child asks her father why the men are cutting down the tree. Her father explains that they are not chopping it down, but are cutting off the dead parts so that it can grow stronger and healthier than before. Melinda finds it hard to believe that the tree will survive because they are cutting so much off. Because of the noise from the saws, watching TV is not possible. Melinda decides to go for a bike ride. She finds herself biking towards the location of last summer’s party. Once there, she gets off her bike. While sitting under a tree, she realizes that there is a bright, happy Melinda inside of her. She decides that she will try and get rid of her own dead branches to make this other Melinda come forth.
Melinda spends the remainder of the day working on the lawn. That night, her family admires her efforts and has a pleasant pizza dinner on the deck. When Melinda is unable to fall asleep, she decides to go for another bike ride. During this ride, Melinda finally feels completely free.
Prom gossip is the only thing anyone talks about on Monday morning. Heather calls in sick because everyone hated her decorations. Rachel, on the other hand, has become a star. She and Andy argued on the dance floor, and when Andy tried to touch her after, Rachel marched over to her exchange student friends. She spent the rest of the evening with a boy from Portugal. Andy has been angry and humiliated since prom, especially because Rachel burned everything of his that she was in possession of and dumped the ashes in front of his locker.
During algebra class, Melinda is suddenly struck with a startling thought: she does not want to spend time in her closet anymore. She is tired of hiding. After school, she heads to the closet to remove her drawings and decorations. In the middle of cleaning, however, Melinda is pushed in the chest and knocked over. She looks up to see Andy Evans closing the door behind him. Andy yells at her for telling Rachel about the rape. He says that it was not rape and that Melinda wanted it just as much as he did. He is angry that the girls in school are calling him a pervert. Melinda attempts to move around him, but Andy tells her that she is not going anywhere. Melinda tries to scream, but makes no noise. Andy tells her that she will not scream, because she did not last time.
This time, however, Melinda finds her voice. She yells, throwing Andy off balance. He punches her, but she continues to make noise. Melinda breaks the mirror as Andy shoves her against a wall, and is able to grab a shard of glass and hold it against his neck. Andy backs off long enough for Nicole and the lacrosse team to reach the closet. One member of the team runs for help.
On the last day of school, Mr. Freeman lets Melinda stay to finish her tree project. A group of seniors stop by to say goodbye to Mr. Freeman and one of the girls tells Melinda that she hopes she is okay. By sundown on the day of her second attack, everyone at school had heard about Andy and Melinda. Melinda finds herself, with only hours left in the school year, suddenly popular. Rachel reaches out to her again. Melinda now realizes that she can move past August, Andy, and the rape. She knows she can grow. When Melinda turns in her tree picture to Mr. Freeman he tells her that she has earned an A+. He says that he knows she has had a tough year. Melinda, on the verge of tears, feels her throat loosen. She knows now that she is ready to talk. She proceeds to tell Mr. Freeman the entire story.
During Melinda's mental health day, she is finally able to say what happened to her: rape. The ability to admit what happened gives her the freedom to try and move on. The warm weather brings more growth to Melinda's personality. She takes on yard work as a new, active project. Her obsession with raking leaves ties into the metaphor of her as a tree. She is sweeping up the dead, fallen pieces of the tree in the same way that she must get rid of the dead pieces of her own personality. Her regret when she realizes how much more work will have to be done now that she has started the clearing process shows that she still fears what will happen if she speaks up about Andy, but her decision to plant seeds shows that she will soon be ready to try.
There are other signs of growth. She succeeds once again in gym class. This time, unlike during the basketball unit, she is happy with her talent. Melinda bonds with Ivy over their mutual dislike of Andy Evans. By rejecting Heather's plea for help with prom decorations, Melinda learns to say no. Most importantly, Melinda finally confesses her secret to Rachel. By speaking up, Melinda shows that she is finally ready to let herself heal. Furthermore, any worries she had about Rachel's acceptance of her confession are eased when she sees the comments on the bathroom wall—though she is upset that Rachel doesn’t believe her, she now has proof that others would. Anderson thus implies that healing takes place with both confession and public validation of the problem.
The oak tree is a symbol of Melinda. Her father's description of the oak tree can be easily also applied to Melinda. His affirmation that the tree's pruning will lead to its growth into one of the strongest on the block gives the reader hope that Melinda will also grow strong, but Melinda’s fear that it won’t survive the pruning reflects the fear she has had all year about dealing with what happened to her, and whether she can handle remembering and speaking up about it. The oak tree is furthermore significant because it forces Melinda to go for a bike ride. When she finds herself at the location of the party, Melinda must directly confront the past. She sits under a different tree while there, and comes to the conclusion that she is no longer completely dead inside.
After this realization, and after her confession to Rachel, Melinda knows that she no longer belongs in the closet. She has already come out and confessed to Rachel. The closet is therefore no longer hiding her secret. It is important that her second attack occurs in the closet, because public revelation of her secret happens after she is discovered there by the lacrosse team. When they rescue her from Andy, Melinda is able to both physically and emotionally leave the closet.
Her final confession comes in conjunction with the conclusion of her tree project. Melinda and her tree come to life at the same time. Her final depiction of the tree is artistically successful because she allows the tree to have flaws, and this symbolizes her acceptance of her own weaknesses, and thus her ability to move past them, and love herself in spite of them.
Her spoken confession to Mr. Freeman is also significant. He is, of course, a character that reaches out to Melinda on multiple occasions. He has seen hints of her troubles through her art, but only now is she finally able to tell her story aloud. That this ends the book signifies that the speaking of her rape story closes one part of her story, and allows the next phase to begin. Before, she didn’t know “if” she would grow up. Now we see she is ready to get to the next stage of her growth, a seed finally sprouting.