Sharon Draper’s young adult novel about a girl with cerebral palsy won numerous awards, spent almost two years on the New York Times bestseller list, and has been translated into twenty different languages. The dramatic success of Draper’s book is due less to the writing, which is good but not spectacular, than to the subject and the story.
Eleven-year-old Melody has cerebral palsy. She uses a wheelchair, has to be spoon-fed soft foods, and is unable to speak. She also has a photographic memory and a love for words. In Out of My Mind we hear the words that are trapped inside Melody’s head. The result is a powerful reminder of just how human—how normal—people with disabilities are.
The author’s personal experience as the mother of a disabled child who is unable to communicate infuses the story with vigorous realism. Melody’s struggles may be on a different scale than those of healthy children, but they are the same at their root. She is misunderstood by adults—including her mother—and left out by her peers. She desperately wants a friend who accepts her as she is. She is embarrassed when she spills food on her shirt. She finds comfort in music.
Draper never portrays Melody as a hero, someone who is braver and stronger than ordinary kids. She is an ordinary kid, and that’s what makes the book so compelling, so relatable.
Melody eventually finds a device that allows her to communicate, which opens new doors and changes her life. But technology doesn’t erase the human struggles. She joins the quiz team, and with her photographic memory, leads her fellow students to the national finals. She is finally part of something exciting. But when the flight to the competition is rescheduled, her teammates leave her behind, afraid she will slow them down. Technology helps her overcome her physical limitations, but it cannot overcome the
human response to her disability that is the source of her deepest pain.
There is no happy ending to Melody’s story, but there is hope. There are the parents who fight for their daughter. There is the woman next door who becomes Melody’s champion. There is the fifth grade girl who reaches out with kindness. It is human nature that hurts Melody, but it is also human nature that brings her joy. Out of My Mind not only offers insight into the life of a child with a disability; it offers a challenge: which kind of human will we be?
Verdict: Highly Recommend