Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Review: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Found via: Cindy at Bookends

OMG, I loved this book. It kept making me want to cry, mostly from sheer loveliness and happiness. What a beautiful book.

Melody is 11 years old, and has never spoken a word. She was born with severe cerebral palsy, so she has spent her life in a wheelchair, unable to feed, dress or bathe herself. A board attached to her chair filled with basic nouns and verbs is essentially her only means of communication. She has spent all of her school years in the special education classroom with other children with a variety of cognitive disabilities, but at the start of 5th grade, the school begins an inclusion program, introducing the special education students to selected mainstream classrooms.

Most exciting for Melody is the introduction of a personal aide, who helps Melody obtain a personal communication device - essentially a computer that Melody can program to speak for her. It is the gift she's been waiting for her entire life, as she is finally able to prove to skeptical teachers and classmates that she is just as smart - if not smarter - than they are. When the history class begins preparing for the quiz bowl, Melody shocks them all by acing the practice quiz. And the try-out quiz, securing herself a spot on the team.

This book is filled with moments of happiness and tragedy. I about lost it when Melody finally got her computer (named Elvira after her favorite country western song) and can tell her parents she loved them. It wasn't just that she was able to speak to her parents, but that her dad also had out his trusty video camera, which hadn't been focused on Melody much since it became clear she wouldn't pass the usual developmental milestones. Her little sister, Penny, was born completely normal, and has been the main focus of the family movies for the past two years. Melody had felt slightly envious watching her sister do all the things she'll never be able to do, so the first time she was able to really speak was beautiful.

Because Melody has essentially a photographic memory, she knows hundreds of thousands of words and facts, and Draper puts all of them to good use in the narrative. This is a beautifully written book, and since we spend so much time in Melody's head, with literally no way for her to communicate with anyone other than us, it is a very intimate read, which leads to Melody's triumphs and tragedies resonating much more with the reader than they might usually. Highly, highly recommend this to everyone, and I fully expect to see it winning some awards next January!
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