Melody is woken by her mother calling her a “rockstar.” Melody learns her photograph is on the local newspaper’s front page. Melody’s mother reads the article aloud: it claims that Melody led her team to victory. Melody is confused that the paper chose to focus on her, and worries that her teammates, having been overshadowed, will hate her. Her mother insists the other kids will be proud.
At school, Rose mentions the newspaper and Melody says she thinks the photo should have included all of them; Rose agrees. In class, Mr. Dimming congratulates the team, singling out Melody in particular for her effort. He explains that the quiz team will meet to train every day after school, with a half-day on Saturdays. Melody wonders if Catherine will be available—if not, how will she use the toilet and eat? Mr. Dimming tells the class that the nationals team will have six members, chosen based on how well people score during training practice rounds.
Melody spends the rest of the day at the back of the class, not answering any questions. Eventually, Catherine asks her why she is being so reticent, and Melody says she knows the other teammates don’t want her on the team. Melody believes that her presence was once considered cute; now she worries the team won’t want her for the national competition, because she makes the team look “weird.” Catherine encourages her to stop feeling sorry for herself, and together they go to quiz practice. Melody answers most of the questions correctly and feels somewhat better when her mother picks her up. As Melody leaves, she can’t help but notice Rose, Claire and Molly are whispering together.
Melody’s team practices every day for nearly two weeks. Mr. Dimming announces that the nationals team will be Rose, Connor, Melody, Elena, Rodney, and Molly, with Claire and Amanda as alternates. Claire says it’s unfair that Molly beat her onto the team, when it was Claire who helped Molly study. Melody smiles: there is so much Claire doesn’t know about what’s fair and unfair.
Melody and her mother go to the mall to buy new outfits for the competition. Melody is pleased when her mother gets her a pair of jeans, since she is tired of wearing baggy sweatsuits. Melody asks her mother to buy thank-you cards for Catherine and Mrs. V. The competition is the next day, so that night Melody’s family packs with Mrs. V’s help. They discuss arrival details: Melody’s family’s flight lands at 2 PM, and the taping begins at the studio across the street from the hotel at 7 PM. Melody wishes she could call Rose to ask if she also feels nervous about the trip.
At the airport in the morning, Melody’s family learns their noon flight has been canceled due to a late-winter snowstorm in the Northeast. The next direct flight isn’t until 7:23 PM. Melody’s mother asks the airline desk agent about the quiz team, who she believes are on the same flight. The agent remembers having checked in Melody’s teammates a few hours before: it turns out that they had all been to breakfast together and arrived at the airport early. The agent switched them to an earlier flight, the last flight to D.C. that made it out.
When it is clear there is no way to get to the competition in time, Melody’s father punches the wall in anger, which he immediately regrets having done. Melody’s mother and Mrs. V wonder why no one on the team called to tell them about the flight change, and Melody’s mother says she can’t imagine they meant to leave Melody behind on purpose. They consider driving to D.C., but Melody’s father says it would take at least ten hours. Meanwhile, Melody has been holding her breath. She feels stupid and helpless, knowing there is nothing she can do.
When Melody and her family return home, she asks to be put in bed. Quiz questions and answers fly through Melody’s head; she wonders why the team didn’t notify her about the flight change or invite her to breakfast. She feels like stomping on something and is angry that she can’t even get angry like a normal kid. Butterscotch, Penny, and Melody’s father come to Melody’s room to comfort her. Melody’s mother enters the room while on the phone to Mr. Dimming; she asks why they weren’t called about the flight change, listens for a minute, then shouts that they easily could have arrived at the airport an hour earlier. Mr. Dimming says he’ll make it up to Melody, and Melody’s mother hangs up on him. Melody cries as her mother takes her into her lap and rocks her. Melody falls asleep listening to her mother’s heartbeat.
The newspaper’s decision to print only Melody’s image as opposed to the entire quiz team’s further isolates Melody as an object of heartwarming curiosity to the world at large and the undeserving center of attention to her classmates. Melody understands that her teammates will feel jealous, but her mother’s pride and optimism leads her to disabuse Melody of what turns out to be a justified trepidation. Despite her best intentions, Melody’s mother nonetheless treats her daughter with condescension rather than considering her perspective.
When Melody’s teammates are jealous of the photograph, it is clear that not even Rose is immune to petty feelings of resentment. Melody would like to be treated as the same as any other kid is, but her physical appearance means that she is evaluated on a different scale and her achievements are considered more noteworthy; this fact isolates her from Rose, the one person with whom she would most like to connect.
Mr. Dimming’s decision to schedule Saturday quiz team practices without consulting Melody or her caregivers is evidence of his continued disregard for Melody’s presence and needs. The insidious animosity Melody feels from her teacher and teammates leads her to believe no one will want her to participate with the nationals team.
In an effort to be helpful and optimistic, Catherine tells Melody to stop feeling sorry for herself, but Melody’s intuition will reveal itself to be true. The image of Rose whispering with Claire and Molly suggests where Rose’s true allegiance lies. The moment also speaks to Rose’s susceptibility to peer pressure, which will eventually lead Rose not to call Melody’s parents to inform them of the canceled flight.
The sudden and unexpected disappointment at the canceled flight and her team’s betrayal shifts the novel’s tone and marks the first climactic scene. Melody’s feelings of rejection and exclusion were warranted. Mr. Dimming’s promise to make it up to her sets up the class’s eventual half-hearted attempt to appease Melody and assuage their guilt. The image of Melody being rocked to sleep by her mother suggests that while the outside world may underestimate Melody’s abilities and disregard her humanity, at least she has her family to comfort her, thereby establishing stakes and tension for the tragedy in the next chapter.