I’ve read Sharon M. Draper before. Both Copper Sun and Fire from the Rock were on my reading list when my son was younger and I enjoyed them both. But several people from my parenting group had raved about her Out of My Mind (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010), and the premise sounded fascinating to me, so I knew I had to read it. Onto my list it went…and there it sat. Seriously, I propose we add like five extra weeks per month where we all just sit around and read. Maybe then I could actually make a dent in this TBR…
Melody is wildly intelligent. She remembers everything- literally everything- that has ever happened to her, and she remembers everything she reads and hears. But no one knows this, because Melody is eleven years old and has never spoken a word. She has a form of cerebral palsy that has made her body almost entirely uncooperative and makes her dependent on her parents and other caretakers for nearly everything. Her parents know she’s smart, as does Mrs. V, her neighbor and babysitter who has dedicated herself to educationally challenging Melody. Her teachers and classmates, however, have no idea, and continually dismiss Melody as barely functional.
Everything changes, however, when Melody receives a Medi-Talker, a device that, for the first time, allows her to have a voice. She can make requests, answer questions (in a much quicker manner than spelling out single words on the board on her tray), make jokes, tell her parents out loud that she loves them. Finally, people at school begins to realize there’s more to Melody than what they expected. But it’s not quite perfect- even girls who act like her friend can’t fully commit to treating her like a regular girl in front of the Mean Girls at school. And teachers- TEACHERS!- are just as bad as some of those Mean Girls. When Melody makes the Whiz Kids Quiz Team, she begins to think that maybe she’s finally got an in on normal life, but as it turns out, despite her importance to the team, even the smartest kids in school and their teacher aren’t fully ready to accept her as a regular kid. A near-tragedy puts things into perspective, and Melody, voiceless no longer, has no problem telling everyone exactly how she feels.
I really enjoyed this. Ms. Draper, who has a family member with cerebral palsy, doesn’t shy away from the difficult reality of severe disability- both from the person who has the condition and from that person’s caretakers. The heavy lifting, the bathroom duty, the drooling because bodies don’t cooperate (as I sit here with my back spasming and my bones burning, I tip my metaphorical hat in sympathy. Bodies are stupid), it’s not an easy life, but Ms. Draper goes above and beyond to show the wonders of such a life as well. So much to learn. So much to experience. Heartfelt connections to be made with the people who are willing to take the time.
There are scenes with Melody’s history teacher, who runs the Whiz Kids team, that will have you seething. I saw some serious red while reading his scenes and was whisked back to my senior year Algebra II class, where a fellow student was bullying a friend with CP, just constantly running his mouth at my friend in a way that the teacher 100% heard him. She didn’t care. She occasionally said things to my friend that I, at 17, knew were unprofessional. I was really shy and quiet in high school and was the kind of kid who wouldn’t say boo to a fly, but after this kid, who was a football player (which was a BIG DEAL in my town *eyeroll*) had ran his mouth for long enough, I slammed my book down and yelled, “Oh my God, just leave him alone!” The football player’s eyes flew open. He turned around back into his seat and never said a single word to my friend in that class ever again. The teacher didn’t say anything then, either.
My point in sharing this story is not to make myself out to look good- I really should have said something earlier; these days, I would, but I’m also a lot older, more mature, and have lost 99% of my chill, so come at me, bro- but to point out that teachers like Melody’s exist. They’re out there. They can be nasty and straight-up let more powerful students bully the less powerful. Remind your kids that this is unacceptable. Believe your kids if they come home telling you that this is happening. Let your kids know that you’ll support them and stand behind them if they stand up and let everyone know that that kind of behavior isn’t okay. Teach them to use their voices for those who can’t.
This is a triumphant read, in the end. Melody is proud of who she is, of what she’s accomplished despite so many people not believing in her- she has enough people who DO, and that’s enough. But it’s also a great message. Be a believer, be one of the people who make life better for Melody and everyone else out there. We’re all struggling in some sort of way, but uplifting each other makes so much of a difference.
Such a great book. I thoroughly enjoyed this. And there’s a SEQUEL coming in November 2021 entitled Out of My Heart. The year is looking up! 😊
Visit Sharon M. Draper’s website here.
5 thoughts on “Book Review: Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper”
This was recommended to me, and I have no regrets. Melody was a phenomenal character, and I simply loved her. I am looking forward to revisiting Melody when her new book comes out in November.
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Same! I loved how tough and determined Melody was, and her confidence at the end. Definitely looking forward to seeing where life takes her in this next book!
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This sounds like a great book. I think I have heard of it before and your review sure makes me curious. I don’t really know anybody with CP, I think.
I’m wondering if you have to be in the right mindset to read it though?
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I don’t think so- Melody is really determined, even when frustrated, and the book is written in a more matter-of-fact, this-is-just-how-life-is-for-us style. I didn’t find that the tone ever veered into any depressing or age-inappropriate, even when discussing the tougher parts of living with or caring for such a comprehensive disability. It’s a middle grade book and appropriate for that age group, but there’s definitely a lot here for adults as well. 🙂