Pros:delightfully real characters; engaging story; well, inspiring
The Bottom Line: At first I thought story took place in the Eighties, then early Nineties and end of century. Doesn't matter. The severely disabled still are often misjudged.
A two-time winner of the Coretta Scott King award, Sharon M. Draper is a popular children’s book author I’ve read for the first time with her 2010 book out of my mind. I like the title. It can be taken two ways: that its eleven-year-old narrator is going out of her mind like a crazy person and that for the first time in her life she’s able to really communicate with people and get the mess of words out of her mind. You see, this smart, little girl Melody Brooks is severely challenged physically with cerebral palsy and can’t walk, talk or take care of herself. She was created out of Draper’s experiences raising a developmentally-slow child, which impassioned her to show that kids with disabilities are people, too, and appearances may be deceiving.
On the amazon.com page for this amazing book Draper leaves a powerful note to her readers. She does not want us to feel sorry for this girl. Not at all. Melody couldn’t be a more engaging, strong-minded character and she loves life, even if it can really frustrate her every so often. Draper emphasizes that Melody is not some poster child for disabilities, but a real person she created with a realistic life at boring Special Ed and at home with parents struggling to raise her and who aren’t perfect.
The book has a bittersweet ending as well that some parents complain about, but Melody won’t let disappointment crush her spirits. She might not be able to stand, but she knows how to stand up for herself and be counted. Don’t think she’ll be invisible for you. That does not, however, suggest that all the prejudiced characters in the book, bullies or teachers, wish to count her in by the end of the book.
Melody is not a whiner, but she’ll tell you just what she’s thinking about other people, for good or bad. In the beginning chapters of out of my mind she has only a small board on her tray with words, phrases and letters or numbers she can point to and you can imagine how maddening it was to try to get your wishes across or hold a conversation. When Melody is allowed in normal classrooms she learns about Stephen Hawking, the great intellectual who also cannot speak, walk or take care of himself (ALS) and yet communicates with a computer and special equipment. So she discovers a life-changing device that gives her any word at her thumb (her thumb works fine) and a voice, too. It’s very emotional for everybody to realize she has a lot to say and is terribly intelligent with a photographic memory, but for many at school she looks and sometimes acts weird and is the butt of jokes.
That doesn’t stop Melody for trying out for the Quiz Kid competition with her annoyed history teacher who thinks she’s wasting his time. Not only does she make the top four contestants, but she helps the team to proceed onto the national, televised stage in Washington. I won’t spoil the ending for you. I’ve already said it was bittersweet, although not the way you might expect. It’s also infuriating and sad, unfair like life so often is. You have to learn to roll with the punches…
One thing that nagged at me through the 295-page children’s book is not knowing when these events were happening. Melody started using a Medi-talk device, probably a primitive forerunner of Dragon NaturallySpeak software today, and was using MySpace, so that must make it around the turn of this century. It’s disturbing to think a fifth-grade child with cerebral palsy was still only using a board on her tray to communicate in this age of technology, but like many doctors and teachers in out of my mind, people often misunderstand and frustrate kids with severe physical disabilities. It’s Draper’s hope that we’ll pause when meeting them and look at such challenged people with new eyes.
I really enjoyed hearing what this determined girl has to say and found her delightful. The other characters had some depth to them, enough to find them compelling as well, but I can’t say they were described too well. Skin color isn’t mentioned, even though Draper usually writes about African Americans, and that’s on purpose probably. We need to look beyond appearances.
Preteen girls and their parents will want to read this book, but others like me who love the intimacy of a girl narrator can enjoy it as well.
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