It is Melinda's first day of high school and she is dreading it. She gets on the bus and sits in the middle, not wanting to be lumped with the "losers" at the back of the bus or the little kids at the front. By the time the bus pulls into her school, however, she is still sitting alone.
All of the ninth graders are corralled into the auditorium for an introduction to high school life. Melinda sits alone, noticing and annoyed by the various cliques forming around her. She spies her former close friends — Nicole, Ivy, and Rachel — joining new groups, leaving her alone. The only person who speaks to her is Heather, a girl from Ohio and with a mouth full of braces. A teacher who Melinda labels "Mr. Neck" gives a presentation to the ninth graders on what to expect; Melinda expects high school to be horrible.
She does, however, find one bright spot in her day: art class. Her art teacher, Mr. Freeman, is an effusive, soulful teacher who encourages creativity and emotion in his students. He has each student pull a scrap of paper out of a broken globe; written on each scrap is a word that the student will try to create in art for the rest of the semester. Melinda pulls the word tree.
In these first sections of Speak, you meet Melinda, and through her description of her classmates and teachers, you gain a sense of their character as well as her own. You also see hints as to what has caused Melinda to be isolated and view herself as an "outcast."
First, Melinda presents herself as a thoughtful, sarcastic, and reserved person. While she formerly saw herself as a "Plain Jane" with her small group of friends, she now sees herself as "Outcast," friend of no one. The calm Melinda describes on reaching art class suggests that art will continue to be an outlet for her as she wrestles with the breach between her and her friends and her new life as a high school student.
Secondly, Melinda's description of her peers and teachers not only reveals her wit and sarcasm, but also illustrates the theme of control with which Melinda will struggle throughout the novel. Pay close attention to the names of the people around Melinda and whether or not she gives them nicknames. For instance, by calling her social studies teacher "Mr. Neck" and her English teacher "Hairwoman," Melinda is able to distance herself from these teachers who annoy her or see her as a nuisance. In contrast, Melinda does not give her art teacher Mr. Freeman a name; his name already connotes her feelings toward him. Already Melinda sees art class as "free" space, a sanctuary from the rest of her life, and Mr. Freeman nurtures that feeling in her. The ability to name and the use of names will continue to play a significant role in the novel.
Finally, while Melinda has yet to reveal why she is friendless, these first sections provide initial clues. For instance, when Melinda is sitting in the auditorium the first day of school, she spots her former best friend Rachel, who she is "dying to tell what really happened." Here, you see that her friends and peers have a misconception about Melinda that has caused them to ostracize her. While the nature of these events remains unclear, you understand that Melinda is unwilling and unable to talk about it — even if it would make her social life easier.