Out of My Mind
by Sharon Draper
Everybody uses words to express themselves. Except me. And I bet most people don’t realize the real power of words. But I do.
Thoughts need words. Words need a voice.
I love the smell of my mother’s hair after she washes it.
I love the feel of the scratchy stubble on my father’s face before he shaves. But I’ve never been able to tell them.
Fifth-grader Melody Brooks loves her little sister Penny, her dog Butterscotch and the sweet twang of country music. She has a photographic memory and dreams of joining her grade school quiz team. Until recently, no one knew any of this because Melody had been locked inside her head. She was born with severe cerebral palsy limiting her movement and her verbal capabilities. Written off by doctors and educators as “retarded” (a word Melody hates) and mentally incapable, the dedication of her 5th grade special education teacher, her aide Catherine, her loving parents and the uncompromising Mrs. V, allow Melody to unlock the voice inside her with the addition of a special Medi-Talker. Not everyone is ready for Melody to have a voice, though – including members of the quiz team she wants to join. However, with a spunk, spirit and courage all her own, Melody works to make her voice stand-out and be listened to and prove that she is a force to be reckoned with.
Kids like Melody have a very special place in my heart. Throughout my high school years, I volunteered with people who had profound mental and physical disabilities at a long-term care facility called The Saint Joseph Home in Cincinnati, Ohio. We took the residents on outings to places like the zoo or a ball game, dressed them up in their Halloween costumes and had a parade, did art projects and just spent time together. They were an amazing group of people, and I loved the time that I spent there with them.
Sharon Draper gives a voice to those who are voiceless, like those individuals at the Saint Joseph Home, in her extraordinary book, Out of My Mind. I absolutely loved the main character, Melody, who has such a unique, beautiful and honest way of looking at the world. She describes country music as “lemons – no sour but sugary sweet and tangy. Lemon cake icing, cool, fresh lemonade.” However, the words swirling around in her head have no voice, and I felt her extreme frustration when she was unable to communicate to her dad that she wanted a Big Mac and a shake or to tell her parents that she loved them. Melody was also matter-of-fact. She describes the difficulty she has eating and the messes she makes on her shirt and the jerking motions she makes when she gets excited or upset. She knows when others are uncomfortable around her, and she hears them whisper about her in hushed tones. As a protagonist, Melody weaves her way into your heart and doesn’t let go. The first-person narration in this book works extremely well and lets the reader see out of Melody’s eyes.
Draper realistically portrays the family dynamics of taking care of someone who is severely handicapped. The love that Melody’s parents have for her is extremely evident – from their insistence to the doctors that Melody is bright to singing and reading to Melody at night to advocating Melody’s need for a Medi-Talker. However, Draper also shows the stress that Melody’s care plays into their marriage and relationship, especially when Melody’s new sister Penny is born.
Two characters that I loved in this book were Mrs. V, a family friend, and Catherine, Melody’s new college-age aide with a quirky fashion-sense. They constantly advocated for Melody, pushed her, and were cheerleaders for her talents and abilities. I can only hope that all children have a Mrs. V or Catherine in their lives.
The main conflict in the story revolves around Melody making the quiz bowl team and the reactions to her presence on the team by those around her. However, this conflict leads to Melody making an important realization:
Fifth grade is probably rocky for lots of kids. Homework. Never being quite sure if you’re cool enough. Clothes. Parents. Wanting to play with toys and wanting to be grown up all at the same time. Underarm odor.
I guess I have all that, plus about a million different layers of other stuff to deal with. Making people understand what I want. Worrying about what I look like. Fitting in. Will a boy ever like me? Maybe I’m not so different from everyone else after all.
Out of My Mind is Melody’s story- a nuanced, poignant, honest story of a girl growing up and finding her voice – something all students can relate to. This is an absolutely fantastic book that I plan on recommending to all students in my classroom. It is an important book to share and treasure and discuss. I really hope that the Newbery buzz is true because this book truly deserves the highest honor in children’s literature.
Genre: Realistic fiction
Age Recommendation: 9 and up
For as long as I can remember, I have loved to read. I have always viewed words as having a magical quality-able to transport, illuminate and inspire. I was able to parlay this love of reading into a career as a language arts teacher and am able to encourage students every day to find books that “speak” to them. I decided to blog about the books I read because books are meant to be shared and discussed. 🙂