Melinda opens by calling Mr. Freeman “a jerk” because he is criticizing her tree. Although she’s annoyed, she does agree with him. Despairing, she decides that real artists like Ivy belong in Mr. Freeman’s art room, but she does not—nor does she belong with the Marthas or in her bedroom. People stare as Melinda throws out her linoleum block; Mr. Freeman gives her Kleenex and a pep talk as she lays her head on the table and cries. He encourages her to make an imperfect tree, one with character and flaws—“‘Be the tree,’” he says. Encouraged, Melinda agrees to try one more time (even as she mocks Mr. Freeman’s advice) to “carve life into my flat linoleum square.”
Although Melinda tries to appear emotionless and apathetic, this is one of the instances in which she breaks down in public; the stress of her isolation, Rachel’s relationship with Andy, and her desire to finish her tree have overwhelmed her. Mr. Freeman, meanwhile, reveals an important message within the novel: imperfections actually add character and texture to an individual. Melinda does not grasp what Mr. Freeman means, but will grow to understand by the end of the book.
Melinda remembers that she played a tree in a second-grade play because she was bad at being a sheep. She recalls how stretching her arms made her sore, and wonders if “trees are ever told to ‘be the screwed-up ninth-grader.’”
Melinda realizes that she has yet another childhood memory associated with trees, and feels sad about the lack of connection between the child she was then and the person she is now.