Melinda describes biology class as a class in which she tries to pay attention. They have real microscopes and are studying cells. She feels sad for her teacher, Mrs. Keen, whom she thinks could have been a famous scientist or a doctor, but instead is stuck with them. She is so short that she has to stand on wooden boxes she has placed all over the room, so the students can see her when she lectures. One day, she wore a purple dress with bright blue roses all over it and the students talked about her all day. She never wore the dress again.
Melinda’s lab partner is David Petrakis who has the potential to be cute, but makes the teachers nervous, because he is so brilliant. He looks like a kid who might get beat up a lot, but somehow no one does. She wishes she knew his secret. The only time he ever talked to her was the day she almost ruined a $300 microscope by turning the knob the wrong way.
In this scene, we see that Melinda, Mrs. Keen, and David Petrakis are in some ways very much alike. Mrs. Keen and Melinda are both the subjects of student gossip while David Petrakis speaks as little as Melinda does, at least at this point. He doesn’t acknowledge Melinda any more than he does anyone else around him. She identifies with that, but secretly seems to want him to speak to her. Blue Roses is an apt title for this chapter as it becomes symbolic for those who are unacceptable by the rest.
Melinda arrives late to math and submits a forged signature from her stolen pad. Mr. Stetman (his real name) stares at it for a long time, but doesn’t comment. She notes that it is impossible to stay focused on algebra which is surprising, as the year before, she had tested at the top of the class in math. However, she just can’t “get her head around algebra.” She and every other student in the class ask the teacher everyday why they have to study it, because it seems to have no practical use. This causes him personal pain, because he loves it so much. He talks about it like some men talk about their cars.
When Melinda cannot or will not solve one of the problems on the board, he calls her up and asks Rachel/Rachelle to help her understand it. She thinks her head is exploding with the noise of fire trucks leaving the station - this is a disaster in the making. Rachel easily begins to solve the problem, speaking to Melinda, while Melinda stands there helplessly and pulls her entire lip into her mouth, hoping to gobble herself up. She doesn’t even know that she has been asked to return to her seat until Rachelle nudges her. She can only come to the conclusion that they shouldn’t spend any time with algebra. It’s a shame, because Mr. Stetman seems like such a nice guy.
Once again, Melinda ends up in a less than flattering light before her peers. She can’t understand algebra at all and becomes a fool in front of the class for inability to solve a problem. Of all people, Rachelle is the one to volunteer to help Melinda at Mr. Stetman’s urging. However, we can see that her anger at Melinda would make her use this opportunity to further humiliate her.
Melinda’s description of her head exploding and a disaster about to happen reflects how she is constantly on the defensive, like a soldier in the midst of battle. She is under siege all the time and so her inability to understand algebra makes her cannon fodder for people like Rachelle.