The Monday following the aquarium visit, Rose shows off a new lime-green laptop. Using her communication board, Melody spells out to Catherine that she would like her own computer, one designed specifically for her needs. Miss Gordon asks who Melody would like to write her biography on, and Melody spells out Stephen Hawking’s name. She is curious to know the details of his life: whether his wife has to lift him onto the toilet, and how he raises his kids.
The next morning is the season’s first snowfall. Maria is excited to decorate Sydney the snowman, but Mrs. Shannon says she is going to bring in a real pine Christmas tree instead. The class makes paper snowflakes while Catherine and Melody research electronic talking and communication devices on one of the slow computers that room H-5 gets stuck with. They find a Medi-Talker, which Melody could theoretically operate with her thumbs. That evening, Mrs. V and Melody’s mother research the device, watching a video of a boy about Melody’s age using it to talk about his birthday party. Melody wants the device right away, but she has to wait while her parents deal with the paperwork, which includes a doctor’s prescription, insurance forms, financial statements, and school approval.
Finally, UPS delivers the Medi-Talker the Wednesday before Christmas. Mrs. V begins reading through the thick instruction manual, but Melody can’t wait and fiddles with the device to explore its features using her own intuition. The Medi-Talker has twelve different levels: On the first, they program the names of everyone Melody knows; on the second, vocabulary and phrases. On other levels they program numbers, jokes, and music they can download from iTunes. Melody’s first words on the device are “Thanks, Mrs. V,” which causes them both to tear up. Mrs. V learns that, by connecting the device to a computer, Melody can save stories and poems she wants to write. Melody names the Medi-Talker Elvira, after her favorite song. Melody is eager to add all the words and phrases she has been dying to say, but she knows it will take time before the device is fully programmed for her needs. Her father films her with his camcorder. She says, “Hi Mom. Hi Dad. I am so happy.” Melody realizes it is the first time she has ever spoken to her parents. She tells them that she loves them, causing her parents to cry.
On the Monday after Christmas break, Melody brings the Medi-Talker with her to school. Her classmates are initially surprised and confused, but once Connor—a popular kid—announces his approval, others follow suit. Claire makes fun of how the device looks, and Melody retorts with a preprepared phrase that says she talks to everybody now, even Claire. Catherine tells the class that now Melody can connect her world to theirs. Claire raises her hand and says that it had never occurred to her that Melody has thoughts in her head. Miss Gordon explains that Melody likely has mountains of thoughts she has never been able to express. Rose sits next to Melody and compliments the Medi-Talker. Melody asks if they are friends and Rose confirms, without hesitation, that they are.
Melody’s newfound ability to express herself makes life at school more pleasant, but she is still socially isolated and left out of gossip, after-school phone calls, and sleepovers. One day in January, Mr. Dimming announces that, instead of regular class, they will have a practice round for the Whiz Kids quiz team. Rose and Connor were on the team the year before, and they beat everyone except one other team.
Mr. Dimming reads aloud a multiple-choice quiz, and Melody, with Catherine’s assistance, records her answers. Mr. Dimming seems surprised that Melody participated when he collects the tests. The results show that Paula, Clair, Rose, and Connor achieved high scores, bested only by Melody, who answered every question correctly. Claire accuses Melody of cheating, while other students congratulate her and Catherine comments on how the state of a person’s body doesn’t reflect the state of her mind.
Melody is not proud of her win, believing that the class thinks her brain is as messed up as her body. Catherine tells Melody that she must prove everyone wrong by joining the quiz team, but Melody doesn’t believe it could ever happen. Mr. Dimming says that he will pick the smartest students to join the Whiz Kid team. He reveals that he plans to take the team to the national quiz event in Washington, D.C. Mr. Dimming then says that he will make the questions even harder, because if Melody Brooks can pass the first round, the questions must not be difficult enough.
That day after school at Mrs. V’s house, Melody is in a sour mood. She knocks a stack of vocabulary cards off her tray and switches off her Medi-Talker. Penny is singing and jumping around, and Melody wishes she would stop. Penny puts Doodle on her tray and Melody knocks the toy off, inadvertently knocking Penny over in the process. Just then the phone rings: Catherine tells Mrs. V what Mr. Dimming had said. Melody expects that Mrs. V will hug her and make her feel better; instead, Mrs. V tells Melody that they are going to train for the quiz team the way an athlete trains for the Olympics.
The next day at school, Catherine plays informative cassettes to help Melody memorize more facts. Math proves to be Melody’s most difficult subject until she discovers that answers come easily when she translates numbers into a story in her mind, changing the figures to words. Instead of going to inclusion class, Melody spends the day with Catherine, listening to cassettes and testing her knowledge.
Rose’s new laptop is significant because it triggers the conversation between Catherine and Melody that leads to Melody receiving her Medi-Talker. The many forms Melody’s parents must fill out before they can order the Medi-Talker is evidence of the frustrating bureaucratic hoops and economic barriers that exist for people with disabilities to procure necessary medical devices; a reader could easily imagine an alternate scenario in which the difficulty in getting the device prevents Melody from ever being able to express herself.
The incorporation of the Medi-Talker allows Melody, for the first time, to express her appreciation for everything her parents and Mrs. V have done for her. It also allows her to talk back to the people who mock her at school, displaying her sassy and wisecracking attitude as she does.
Though the ability to convey her personality ought to help Melody integrate into her milieu, there are still setbacks. Just because she can talk now doesn’t mean Melody’s classmates are any more likely to include her in conversation or after-school activities.
The pervasive nature of ableism means that even when Melody achieves the highest score on the practice quiz, Claire, Molly, and Mr. Dimming are not convinced of her mental competence. This scene is significant because it highlights how much harder Melody must work to have her humanity recognized by others.
Mr. Dimming’s thoughtless comment insults Melody, causing her to retreat inward and lash out against Mrs. V and her oblivious sister Penny. Mrs. V recognizes that it is important not to indulge Melody in her self-pity but to overcome adversity by proving Mr. Dimming wrong by making it onto the quiz team. Melody takes up Mrs. V’s challenge, but nonetheless remains introverted, choosing to memorize information with Catherine rather than participate in her inclusion classes—a choice that speaks to the lasting impact and efficacy of Claire, Molly, and Mr. Dimming’s tacit attempts to exclude Melody.