While I was in college, I worked for a summer at a camp for challenged children. Their challenges ranged from physical to emotional to psychological. They were utterly amazing people - all of them - and they taught me volumes about how to see people for exactly who they are, no more and certainly no less. But the person who taught me the most about this was not a camper, but a co-counselor. Mark couldn't walk, he was in a wheelchair. Mark could barely speak, his words were slow and garbled. Mark also couldn't feed himself, we co-counselors took turns helping him eat. Mark had cerebral palsy, just like Melody in Sharon M. Draper's Out of My Mind - and just like Melody, inside of the physical limitations of his body, was a clear and creative thinking mind. Just like Melody, Mark had an extraordinary spirit just waiting to burst out.
Out of My Mind begins with Melody's strong, smart voice: "I'm surrounded by thousands of words. Maybe millions. Cathedral. Mayonnaise. Pomegranate. Mississippi. Neopolitan. Hippopotamus. Silky. Terrifying. Iridescent. Tickle. Sneeze. Wish. Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes - each one delicate and different, each one melting, untouched in my hands. Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts." Melody's words - her ideas and opinions and questions and answers - are literally trapped inside her body because of her cerebral palsy. She can't make her mouth form words and she can't make her fingers work a keyboard, so she is silent. Or she appears to be. But, oh, there is so much buzzing and yelling and singing inside her! How can she find a way to literally get that sound out?
Sharon Draper creates an in-depth and honest examination of that very process. When Melody - along with her parents, her neighbor and her teaching aide - find a way to allow her to finally speak, there is great cause to celebrate, but there is also great pain to experience. Melody's classmates make unkind comments about her right in front of her. Her teacher underestimates her intelligence. All of these people have to face their own misconceptions and fears about Melody. This process is, at times, hard to watch unfold. It is raw. It is even cruel. But it all rings true. Out of My Mind is thoughtfully crafted to include the minute details that make up a transformation like this - it does not rely on stereotypes and it does not smooth out rough edges or make straight what is a forward-then-backward-then-forward-again kind of a journey.
Accompanying Melody on this journey is a deeply rewarding experience. More than anything else, Out of My Mind is an examination of the spirit of one incredible girl - a fierce and determined and trapped spirit - and her search to find a way to share that spirit with the world. It is a spirit that is easy to love. And Melody is a girl who is easy to love, too. Just like Mark, my co-counselor - my friend - it is worth it to get to know Melody for exactly who she is.
Recommended for ages 9-12
This review was originally published in April 2010, and has been updated for the May 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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