Out of My Mind


It’s entirely possible that you haven’t noticed this, as I’ve only reviewed a few books so far, but I really enjoy books about people with disabilities. I don’t know why. I think it’s because I used to love books about people with magic (an advantage I don’t have), so now I’m interested in what’s…sort of the opposite, a disadvantage I don’t have. But in a way, disabilities are magical too. If you have one, you probably don’t think so, and I don’t mean any offense by what I say. I like to learn new things, and I like to learn about people different than I am (like people from other cultures, or times, or situations; remember that quote about reading giving us experiences we couldn’t otherwise have?). Reading about disabilities is also always enlightening because even if the disabled characters are at a significant disadvantage, and even if they’re depressed about it, the book usually resolves with them coming to terms with their disabilities, so it’s usually hopeful.

Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper, centers around a girl named Melody with a photographic memory. She’s smarter than probably any other kid in her school. But nobody knows it, and she has been stuck listening to the ABCs over and over and over again in her Special Ed classes. This is now a metaphor for her life. She has cerebral palsy.

That means that she can’t move most of her muscles according to what she wants; they move randomly or not at all. I’ve read a few books in which the character can’t even move his/her eyeballs, but this isn’t the case with Melody, thankfully, and she can also move her thumbs a little. She lives in her wheelchair, but she doesn’t so much have an issue with being unable to move as with being unable to talk.“‘Melody, if you had to choose, which would you rather be able to do—walk or talk?’ [my neighbor asks.] Talk. I pointed to my board. I hit the word again and again. Talk. Talk. Talk. I have so much to say.”

Melody is a deep character with wit and humor despite her situation. She has an exceptional mind, but she can’t tell a single person what she feels and thinks. She can point to different words on a board on her wheelchair (using her thumbs), but clearly this is difficult and frustrating and easily misinterpreted.

Melody gets excited when she finds out about a machine called a Medi-Talker—a machine she could manipulate, using her thumbs, to speak her mind. But not everybody’s prepared to hear her; even this achievement does not remove the behavior of the other students in her class or her teachers—people fueled by ignorance. They either don’t know how to respond to her, or bully her for being different (in subtle ways, of course). She is seen as a liability even when she clearly demonstrates that she is the smartest of them all. I can’t reveal the end of the book, but several unexpected things happen, and the conclusion is ultimately uplifting as Melody finds out that she doesn’t need much more than her own inner strength and the support of those who really matter.

Sharon M. Draper is an excellent author and this was a marvelous example of her talent.

 

Writing

    Words.
I’m surrounded by thousands of words. Maybe millions.
    Cathedral. Mayonnaise. Pomegranate.
Mississippi. Neapolitan. Hippopotamus.
Silky. Terrifying. Iridescent.
Tickle. Sneeze. Wish. Worry.

Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes–each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands.

Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts. Mountains of phrases and sentences and connected ideas. Clever expressions. Jokes. Love songs.

From the time I was really little-maybe just a few months old–words were like sweet, liquid gifts, and I drank them like lemonade. I could almost taste them. They made my jumbled thoughts and feelings have substance. My parents have always blanketed me with conversation. They chattered and babbled. They verbalized and vocalized. My father sang to me. My mother whispered her strength into my ear.

Every word my parents spoke to me or about me I absorbed and kept and remembered. All of them.

I have no idea how I untangled the complicated process of words and thought, but it happened quickly and naturally. By the time I was two, all my memories had words, and all my words had meanings.

But only in my head.

I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old.

5/5. One of the important things about this work is that you feel for Melody. You don’t just sit there thinking, Hum, I wish they would stop being mean, or, Wouldn’t it be better if she could talk? You ache and scowl and want to cry for her. Maybe it didn’t always feel like I was Melody—how could it? I don’t have cerebral palsy, and no matter how good an author is, they can’t simulate something constant throughout your entire life that you’ve never experienced—but the connection, the empathy, was strong enough for me to be inside her head, if not inside her body. I think it’s sort of clear that these were pretty different things for Melody.

Character Depth/Development

Melody definitely develops. Some of the school characters—students and teachers—that we do see are shallow, but not because they aren’t deep characters: because their personalities are shallow. There isn’t a large amount of development in all of the characters, but several of them end up seeing that the way they treated Melody wasn’t right. 5/5

Plot

The plot is occasionally predictable, but it has some severe twists as well. At times there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to the book other than a glimpse into Melody’s life. But then, that is a point. That’s what realistic fiction is about. This book is not driven throughout, but Melody does have determination and she does have goals. And the world around her has goals as well. 5/5

Je Ne C’est Quois

I think a lot of the je ne c’est quois here was actually voice, but as I’m not sure I can make the distinction, 5/5.

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