The theme of strength of character is the most prevalent theme. Melinda nearly loses that strength completely as she shuts down emotionally, psychologically, and verbally. She cannot speak about what is unspeakable pain, until she learns from her experiences throughout the school year that she has to dig deep within herself to find the power to go on and to believe in herself again. She is actually one of the lucky ones, because she finds her way back to some semblance of normalcy. Many others never recover from such trauma.
The theme of growing up is also an important idea. Even though most high school students never suffer the trauma Melinda did, they do experience at one time or another what Melinda calls the One Big Hazing Activity: they all seek to belong, to be accepted in some way or another. No one wants to be so outcast that she belongs to no group nor has any friends, like Melinda. As a result, growing up is really difficult and high school is sheer torture. She says that if you survive high school, they let you become an adult. She just hopes it’s worth it. This is Melinda’s concept that for some kids, it’s not worth it and that high school is a very traumatic experience.
The theme of conformity is a theme which makes the reader think about how we torture each other in the name of belonging. We all must fear being alone so much that anyone who is different is ostracized. Melinda could find no way to conform after the summer party and must hide inside herself to survive. But, of course, the memories of what she endured at the hands of Andy Evans and later by her friends doesn’t exactly make inside herself much better. She sincerely would like to be one of the conformists, but it is in being a non-conformist, even though it was label forced upon her, that makes her a stronger, better person.
The lesson from this theme involves a need to be aware of those in our society that we knowingly or unknowingly ostracize and trying to find a way to include them, too. Think of the pain that would disappear if we all were accepted for who we are. Of course, we all know that this would then become paradise or a utopia! However, in striving to make it come true, we can become better people.
This story is filled with sadness, despair, fear, and loneliness throughout most of the novel. It is only when Melinda finds the strength to face all of these emotions that the mood changes to one of triumph and inspiration.