Melody opens the thirtieth chapter by commenting that what happened that day was all her fault. She wakes up to a thunderstorm. Her father, wearing a sling for his injured wrist, sits down in Melody’s room and says that her team was eliminated in a late round, ending up in ninth place. Melody doesn’t think of it as her team anymore. Though she doesn’t have to, Melody decides to go into school rather than stay at home and feel sorry for herself.
Due to the lightning, Melody takes her manual chair and Plexiglas communication board, leaving the electric wheelchair and Medi-Talker at home. Her mother receives a call to come in to work at the hospital: a pileup on the highway means they need extra nurses. Overwhelmed, the family tries to convince Melody to stay home, but she insists on going to school because she would like to see Catherine. The bus arrives to pick Melody up, and Melody’s father waves the driver off, telling him that they’re running behind today and will take Melody to school themselves. Her mother’s stress level builds as she puts Melody and her chair in the SUV.
Before they drive off, Melody spots Penny run out of the door into the storm, dragging their mother’s red umbrella. Melody screams and thrashes but her mother doesn’t understand. In an effort to pull the keys away, Melody scratches her mother’s hand, provoking her mother to smack Melody on the leg—the first time Melody’s mother has ever raised a hand to her. In that moment, Melody wants nothing more than to be able to speak; she is going out of her mind.
Melody’s mother starts the ignition and the windshield wipers beat fast. Her mother puts the car in reverse and rolls slowly backward until she hears a soft thud. Melody’s father runs out of the house, asking where Penny is. Her mother gets out and looks down, then screams for a long time, louder than the fire truck and ambulance sirens that follow. Melody remains strapped in her the passenger seat for what seems like hours. More or less forgotten, Melody aches with fear while rain pours in the open window.
Mrs. V takes Melody inside while Melody’s parents leave with the ambulance. Mrs. V changes Melody into warm clothes and puts an easy-listening radio station on. All Melody can hear is gray. Mrs. V goes next door to retrieve Melody’s Medi-Talker and Butterscotch. Able to speak through her Medi-Talker, Melody says that she feels responsible for what happened to Penny. Mrs. V assures her she tried her best to warn her mother. Melody asks if Penny will live, and Mrs. V says that she was living and breathing when the ambulance came, so she will probably be okay. Melody asks if Penny will have brain damage, and Mrs. V says it’s possible, but she prays that’s not the case. Melody wishes she could take Penny’s place, claiming that nobody would miss her. Melody says she wants to be like other kids—normal. Mrs. V insists that people love her for who she is, and that there’s nothing great about being normal. The phone rings and Mrs. V bursts into tears at the news she receives. Melody’s stomach drops: she asks if Penny is dead. Mrs. V says that Penny has internal injuries and a badly broken leg, but that she survived the surgery, and will live.
Melody’s mother spends the weekend in Penny’s hospital room, sleeping on a cot. Mrs. V helps take care of Melody, while Melody’s father is a mess, forgetting his words, dropping objects, and neglecting to shave. Melody learns that Penny’s leg is in a cast and that she has no brain damage. At school, Melody looks upon her special needs friends in room H-5 with new appreciation: not one of them even knows how to be mean. Having tried and failed to blend in with the main school, Melody doesn’t know where she fits in. Catherine arrives and Melody gives her the thank-you card her mother had purchased and put in Melody’s book bag. Catherine thanks her in return, and says that she probably saved Penny’s life by kicking and screaming. Maria hugs Melody and tells her she did a good thing, which causes Melody to cry.
In Mr. Dimming’s room, Melody’s classmates are silent. Not even Rose looks her way. Melody turns up the volume on her Medi-Talker and asks why they left her. Rose stands to say that they hadn’t left her on purpose. Melody asks why she wasn’t invited to breakfast, and Claire admits that it was because they thought she would slow everyone down; Melody learns that Claire took her place on the team. Connor stands to explain that, when they arrived early to the airport, they were informed of the noon flight’s cancellation; they all ran to the gate. Rose was about to call Melody—she had her phone flipped open—but when she looked at her teammates, they all shook their heads; she closed her phone and the team boarded the plane. Having admitted this, Rose puts her head on the desk and bursts into tears. Connor places the ninth-place trophy on Melody’s tray and says the team would like her to have it. The trophy is small and made of plastic that has been painted to look like metal; Spaulding Street Elementary is misspelled on the nameplate. Melody starts to giggle and knocks the trophy to the floor, where it smashes. The class looks at her in surprise, then some begin laughing too. Melody tells them they should keep the statue, because they deserve it. Still laughing, she powers on her chair and rolls out of the classroom.
Melody reflects that fifth grade is likely difficult for most kids: never knowing if you’re cool enough; worrying about clothes; dealing with parents; wanting to play with toys while simultaneously wanting to be grown up. Melody has these issues, though she must deal with additional layers of complexity: worrying what she looks like; fitting in; wondering if a boy will ever like her. She realizes that she is not so different from everyone else. She compares the uncertainty in her life to a puzzle without the box to show her what the picture is supposed to look like in the end. Penny comes home from the hospital with bumps, bruises, a cast, and a new red hat. Melody begins Miss Gordon’s autobiography project: Mrs. V plugs her Medi-Talker into a computer to record Melody’s sentences. Melody knows it will take a while to say everything that has remained stuffed in her mind for the past eleven years, particularly when she has to say it all with just one thumb. The narrative closes with Melody composing the lines that comprise the book’s first chapter.
Melody’s guilty narration and assumption of blame create an expectation: we know something tragic is going to happen. The grim weather acts as a plot device that precipitates Melody’s mother’s frustration at having to haul the manual wheelchair into the SUV. The thunderstorm also justifies why Melody doesn’t have her Medi-Talker and is thus unable to communicate the danger to her mother.
It has been hinted through the narrative that Melody’s sister Penny is eager to escape the house and pretend she is going to work. In the novel’s second climactic scene, Penny manages to escape without Penny’s mother or father having noticed. In a prolonged instance of dramatic irony, the reader understands that Penny’s life is in danger while Melody’s mother’s frustration and anger keep her oblivious to Melody’s warning kicks and scratches.
Melody’s guilt is drawn out as Penny’s health status remains unknown. In her desperation, Melody says to Mrs. V that she believes no one would miss her if she were gone, a statement that acknowledges the extent to which Melody’s self-image has been determined by the negative ways people respond to her presence. Melody confesses that she would prefer to be normal, to which Mrs. V insists that there is nothing great about being normal, a statement that will resonate for Melody in the final chapter.
When Melody returns to school, Catherine prompts Melody to reassess her guilt about Penny’s accident by reassuring her that she the best she could. It is difficult for Melody to see any good in her efforts, because she has so thoroughly assimilated a negative view of herself. When Maria comforts her, Melody has a newfound appreciation for the students in room H-5. Melody had wanted to belong to the main-school students even when she encountered prejudice and cruelty; in contrast, the special needs students harbor no animosity or bitterness. Despite having recognized her classmates’ virtues, Melody still feels socially isolated, belonging neither to the main school or room H-5.
Rose’s failure to call Melody to inform her of the canceled flight contributes to the novel’s thematic preoccupation with social belonging, which can result in succumbing to peer pressure. Even though her classmates are evidently guilty, their attempt to placate Melody with the tacky ninth-place trophy serves as a final symbol of their condescension toward her. The idea that she would be touched by their pathetic gift is laughable to Melody; the gesture of smashing the trophy and leaving the room presents the reader with an image of Melody choosing her continued social isolation over sacrificing her own self-respect.
In the final chapter, Melody compares the difficulties of an average fifth grader to her own, realizing in the process that her concerns are universal. The moment is significant because it marks a change in Melody’s perspective: for the entire novel she has wanted nothing more than to be normal; she now understands that her existential concerns—to belong socially, to be seen as attractive, to connect with others—are the same as anyone else’s. The revelation suggests that Melody has accepted that she is normal, even if others cannot see it. When the narrative returns to the lines that make up the first chapter, the book comes full circle: the reader understands that the book we have been reading is the result of Miss Gordon’s autobiography assignment.