Once class begins, Peggy and Maddie look across the room to see that Wanda isn’t in her seat. They notice her desk is dusty, and it looks like she wasn’t there yesterday either. Like this morning, they had waited on Tuesday for Wanda to arrive, but had forgotten about her as soon as they were in class. They often wait for Wanda—to have fun with her.
The narrator comments that Wanda lives in Boggins Heights, which is an undesirable place to live. People went there to pick wildflowers in summer, but they always had to hold their breath as they passed old man Svenson’s yellow house.
People in town say Svenson is no good; he doesn’t work, his property is dirty and disgraceful, and he lives alone with a dog and cat. Stories about him circulate among townspeople, and those stories compel people to rush past his house, even in daylight. Beyond Svenson’s is a scattering of small frame houses. Wanda lives in one of these basic homes with her father and her brother Jake.
The narrator comments on Wanda’s last name, Petronski, and says that most children in Room 13 had easier-to-pronounce surnames, like Thomas, Smith, or Allen. People find Willy Bounce’s name funny, but not funny the way Petronski is.
Wanda has no friends; she walks to school alone and goes home alone. Every day she wears a faded blue dress that doesn’t fit her well. The dress is clean but looks wrinkly. Many girls wait to surround Wanda under the maple trees on the corner of Oliver Street, or in the schoolyard. The narrator provides an example of the type of confrontation Wanda encounters: Peggy, feigning courteousness while also nudging her friends, asks Wanda how many dresses she has. Wanda replies that she has one hundred. The girls don't believe her, but Wanda insists she has one hundred dresses, lined up in a row. Peggy asks if they are silk and velvet, and Wanda, speaking casually but with her lips tightened, confirms that they are.
Wanda walks away while the other girls burst out in derisive laughter. The girls are incredulous, and talk to each other about how it is obvious that Wanda owns only the one dress she wears to school every day. Meanwhile, Wanda walks to a sunny spot next to an ivy-covered wall and waits for the school bell to ring. However, if the same encounter happened on Oliver Street, the girls would follow Wanda to school, asking more incredulous questions about her wardrobe. When asked about shoes, Wanda would stare ahead, not meeting Peggy’s eyes, and say she had sixty pairs, each of them distinct.
The narrator comments that, though she instigates and leads the bullying against Wanda, Peggy is not actually cruel; she protects small children from bullies and cries if she sees animals being mistreated. Peggy would be surprised to think of her treatment of Wanda as cruel, because Wanda is clearly lying about the dresses, she has an unusual last name, and they never make Wanda cry.
Maddie, however, is bothered by how they tease Wanda. Maddie is poor herself, and usually wears hand-me-down clothes. Maddie considers herself lucky not to live in Boggins Heights, have a funny surname, or a forehead as shiny as Wanda’s. Sometimes Maddie feels embarrassed when Peggy asks Wanda questions about her wardrobe. Maddie is not sorry for Wanda so much as she is concerned that she will be the next target of the bullying. She knows she isn’t as poor and has more sense than to pretend she has one hundred dresses, but she wishes Peggy would stop teasing Wanda Petronski.
In the second chapter, the reader is reminded of the narrative’s central conflict when Peggy and Maddie finally notice that Wanda’s desk is empty. The imagery of the dusty desktop shows that Wanda has likely been absent for a few days.
The themes of poverty and class difference are further developed when the narrator provides more information about Boggins Heights, where Wanda and her family live. Rumors circulate among townspeople about the neighborhood and an old man who lives there; these rumors imbue the impoverished area with spookiness and shame.
The theme of equality is touched on when the narrator discusses Wanda’s Polish surname. The students of Room 13 have Anglophone names that, because of their commonness, are considered easy to pronounce. By contrast, the Slavic syllables of Petronski are considered unusual, and her foreignness is therefore made more apparent.
The narrator elaborates upon the themes of social isolation, bullying, and poverty by providing more information about the hundred dresses game that Peggy “plays” with Wanda. The game involves questioning Wanda about the expansive wardrobe she claims to own; the girls understand the claim to be an obvious lie since Wanda only ever wears the same blue dress to school.
The narrative voice, though omniscient, assumes the logic of children when it makes excuses for Peggy’s bullying. The text alleges that Peggy isn’t actually cruel, because she is protective of others. Plus, Wanda never cries in front of the girls, so Peggy is able to assume Wanda isn’t hurt by the “game.”
Though it had seemed as though Wanda is the book’s protagonist, at the end of the chapter Maddie is revealed as the true protagonist, as the narrative point of view shifts away from omniscience and stays close to Maddie’s thoughts and feelings for the rest of the book.
While the reader had been led to believe that Maddie participated in Wanda’s taunting, Maddie has conflicted feelings about the hundred dresses game. She understands that it is cruel, and she wishes Peggy would stop. However, Maddie’s conflict is that she worries she herself, as a poor girl, will become the target of bullying if she stands up for Wanda.