Out of My Mind
Written by Sharon Draper
Atheneum, 2011, 295 pp.
“It’s like somebody gave me a puzzle, but I don’t have the box with the picture on it. So I don’t know what the final thing is supposed to look like. I’m not even sure if I have all the pieces.” (p. 293)
Melody is an 11-year-old girl who has cerebral palsy, unable to talk, walk, sit, or eat without support and assistance. The novel begins with Melody describing the meaning and power of words in her life. “Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes—each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands” (p. 1). We soon find out that Melody hangs on to and listens to every word because she cannot articulate her own words. Through her parents’ endless hope and the championing of their loving neighbor, Mrs. V, Melody finds her voice using speech generation technology. She tells her story with an eloquent honesty that reveals the heart and mind of a young adolescent alienated from peers and family. But, with the support of her neighbor and through her own determination, Melody has the opportunity to grow.
Draper confronts powerful issues related to students with disabilities. Through the characters of Claire and Molly, she exposes how other students often treat peers who are different. With great care, she juxtaposes two teacher extremes through Mr. Dimming who is assuming and unkind and Mrs. Lovelace who is loving, kind, and appreciated by Melody. Finally, the most powerful issue Draper challenges is the assumption that students like Melody are not intellectually capable. Through Melody we experience the frequency of this assumption and appreciate her mission to prove her intellectual excellence. Melody tells her story in a way that is real and sincere so that anyone can understand and empathize with the challenges she faces every day, even someone who is an outsider to this culture.
It should be no surprise then that Out of My Mind was a New York Times Bestseller for nine weeks, and has received more than twenty awards including the Josette Frank Award. This award itself recognizes a book of literary merit that demonstrates how a young person faces challenges in a positive yet realistic way. This text also received the 2011 IRA Teachers’ Choice Book Award and the 2011 IRA Young Adult’s Choice Award.
While this text could stand alone and incite extensive discussion because of its depth, it would also pair well with Mockingbird (Kathryn Erskine, 2011). Mockingbird is narrated by a young female character –Caitlin–who has Asperger’s syndrome. Melody and Caitlin experience different challenges in their lives, yet have similar encounters with peers and teachers. Melody’s experiences of using speech generation and learning to advocate for herself could also be compared and contrasted with those of the male character, Martin Phoenix, in Waiting for No One (Beverly Brenna, 2010) and The White Bicycle (Beverly Brenna, 2012) in her Wild Orchid trilogy.
Dr. Sharon Draper, a Cincinnati resident, has been a prolific author for young people. Her compassion and empathy for children comes through clearly in this text. While Draper herself is not an insider to this culture, she has parented a child who, like Melody, is trapped inside her own body. Her years of experience as an educator, the time she spent at summer camps for children with disabilities, and the countless hours with her daughter, have allowed her to imagine and comprehend the experiences of a student like Melody.
Rebecca Gasiewicz, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio
WOW Review, Volume V, Issue 4 by World of Words is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on work at https://wowlit.org/on-line-publications/review/v-4/