I've been in a bit of a reading funk lately, starting books and abandoning them after 10 or 100 pages. That's why it was so refreshing to me to discover Sharon M. Draper's Out of My Mind. This book grabbed me from the very first page, and still has not let go, two days after finishing it.
Melody is a brilliant young girl with a photographic memory (probably) and a passion for words. No one knows this, however, because Melody spends her days trapped in a wheelchair, unable to utter more than a few grunt-like sounds. What bothers Melody is not so much her inability to do anything for herself, but her inability to communicate with her family, let alone with the larger world.
This pulled me in:
"I have no idea how I untangled the complicated process of words and thought, but it happened quickly and naturally. By the tie I was two, all my memories had words, and all my words had meanings.
But only in my head.
I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old."
And things like this kept me reading:
"It's like I've always had a painted musical sound track playing background to my life. I can almost hear colors and smell images when music is played." (Page 5)
"It's like I live in a cage with no door and no key. And I have no way to tell someone how to get me out." (Page 38)
"When I sleep, I dream. And in my dreams I can do anything. I get picked first on the playground for games. I can fun so fast! I take gymnastics, and I never fall off the balance beam. I know how to square-dance, and I'm good at it. I call my friends on the phone, and we talk for hours. I whisper secrets. I sing." (Page 51)
You get the idea. There is much more to Out of My Mind than Melody explaining her situation, of course. Things happen in Melody's family, and at her school. A nation-wide quiz contest for middle schoolers becomes a major plot point. There are secondary characters to cheer for, and others to sneer at, and still others that fall somewhere in the realistic in-between.
But, at heart, Out of My Mind is about Melody and her actions and reactions. Because her lows are so very low, even small accomplishments are cause for celebration, by both Melody and the reader.
Out of My Mind is a book that drops the reader into the shoes of a character with severe physical limitations, and makes her real. I felt so frustrated on Melody's behalf - so angry when people underestimated or belittled her. I feel like I've gained a degree of empathy for people with cerebral palsy that I didn't have before. Draper manages this without heavy-handed platitudes or giving me the impression that I should react a certain way. Instead, she gets out of the way, and lets Melody tell us what she thinks and feels. Powerful stuff, with a soft-spoken delivery.
I highly recommend Out of My Mind to advanced elementary school and middle school readers and up, girls or boys. For younger kids, Melody's vocabulary might be a tad intimidating. In fact, my initial reaction to Melody's voice was that her language was too poised and advanced for an 11-year-old narrator. I concluded, however, that this was intentional, and fit with who Melody was.
I will not forget Melody any time soon, and I hope that many other readers, kids and adults, will be able to get to know her, too. Out of My Mind is something special.
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle during #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign
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