I’ve not yet read half of the Young Hoosier nominees for the coming school year, but I have found my winner. I want everyone to read Out of My Mind (Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2010) by Sharon Draper. I’ve been a fangirl of Sharon Draper ever since my most reluctant readers convinced me that Forged by Fire was the best book ever, but Draper has outdone herself with this book. Out of My Mind goes to the top of my list for “Required Reading for Life.”
Melody begins her story with a love song to words–all words–until the first chapter ends with these devastating sentences: ”I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old.” Even though I knew from reading the back cover that cerebral palsy trapped Melody’s brilliant mind within the limitations of a body that just didn’t work like the rest of the world, the power of those words punched me in the gut. I often felt like I had been punched while reading, but in the best possible way. I also laughed and cried and shouted as I read.
I cannot begin to imagine the frustration Melody must feel with all those words and thoughts piled up inside her head with no way to share them. I can understand how she feels like going out of her mind with having to sit through the same low-level alphabet lessons year after year because most of her teachers and her doctors don’t believe she is capable of learning at all. Even though her body is severely limited, she is an astute observer of human nature. She is quite aware of how “normal” students view her and her classmates. But in fifth grade something happens that will rock Melody’s world. She is given a device (similar to that used by Stephen Hawking) that finally allows her to speak to the world. She finally has a chance to share all the facts she has soaked up when she makes the school’s Quiz Bowl team. The only question that remains is whether or not her fifth grade world is ready to change their preconceptions of her.
Melody is not perfect. She can be sassy and stubborn. She longs to be part of the group and even to have a friend, but doubts if she can really trust her classmates. Two of the girls in particular are downright cruel. She loves her younger sister Penny, but is still jealous of how easily Penny learns to walk and dance and speak. Sometimes the frustration of it all becomes too much, and she erupts into a frenzy. Neither could Melody do it alone. Her parents and next door neighbor Mrs. V and assistant Catherine are there to encourage and cheer her on when the going gets tough. Through the tough times, Melody remains an inspiration.
I can’t wait to share this book with my students this coming year. If you haven’t read it yet, get to a library and bookstore. What are you waiting for?