Saturday, April 2, 2016

Out of My Mind

Author: Sharon M. Draper
Published: 2010
Length: 295 pages
Source: Local library

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 3/5

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 saves.
But I've never been able to tell them. 

In many ways, Melody is a typical 11-year-old girl. She enjoys music, watches television, loves her family, and yearns for a good friend. One thing that sets her apart from her peers is her high intelligence and a photographic memory. She is also extraordinary in another way--she has cerebral palsy and lacks the ability to walk or talk. No one knows that her favorite song is "Elvira" by the Oakridge Boys and that she sees colors when she listens to Mozart. Her intelligence is not even considered a possibility by her doctors, teachers, and fellow students. Her thoughts and words are trapped in her mind, desperate to be released and to reveal her personality and talents. Melody's life changes when she switches from a communication board to an electronic communication device a la Stephen Hawking. With an effective way to speak and a place on the Whiz Kids Quiz Team, it seems probable that things are going to look up for Melody.

Unfortunately, Melody goes to what must be the worst elementary school in the history of ever. Snotty fifth graders and insensitive teachers are the norm rather than the exception at Spaulding Street Elementary School. When they practice questions for the Quiz Team, Melody is accused of cheating by the other kids and the teacher actually says that because Melody got them all right then the questions must not be hard enough! They say and do more heartless things as the story unfolds. Luckily, Melody has enough strength and spirit to rise above the ugliness.

I love that Draper's novel gave me a perspective into what might go on inside the mind of someone with cerebral palsy. I would recommend it as a great read-aloud selection for middle grades, whether at home or school, to teach empathy towards individuals with special needs.  However, the important message of the book did not make me wholeheartedly love the story in which it was set.  The drama relied on the over-the-top meanness of the characters, lending to a contrived feel and, in my case, book-throwing. Maybe Draper was trying to increase the appeal among young readers by including the kind of dramatic yet unbelievable situations you might see in a Disney Channel show. Perhaps she felt this was a better vehicle for teaching compassion to kids? I only know that I don't regret reading it, I just wish I could have loved the whole shebang. 

And because I used to love this song when I was little, just like Melody does, here's video of "Elvira", one of the funnest songs to sing along to.  "Giddy up oom poppa oom poppa mow mow" :)