Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

How cool would it be to have a nearly photographic memory? Or to experience synesthesia (the sensation of combining senses, like seeing colors just by listening to music)? Melody is the smartest kid in her class, has the quickest wit and some of the most interesting thoughts, but she can’t express them – at all. In fact, Melody can’t talk at all, can’t walk at all, can’t even feed herself. The only thing Melody can reliably control is one of her thumbs. Because of the way Melody appears at first, and even second glance, the other kids in school, and teachers too, all treat her like she’s dumber than dirt. Doctors who haven’t cared to look closely have labeled Melody as severely mentally retarded.

Melody communicates by pointing to words on a handmade word board on the tray of her wheelchair. Try to imagine talking like this for just one day. She is completely restricted to just a handful of words and phrases that someone else decided were important, while her mind is swimming with thoughts and ideas just dying to come out.

Eventually Melody gets a programmable computer to replace her word board and suddenly is able to get her thoughts out into the world and give people around her a piece of her mind. At first, some believe that there is no way she is actually smart, but that her aide is programming her computer or that she’s cheating somehow. Some students become even crueler to her at the thought that a disabled person is actually smarter than they are.

One of the first things Melody custom programs her computer to say is the answer to what she expects to be her most asked question. She says “I have spastic bilateral quadriplegia, also known as cerebral palsy. It limits my body, but not my mind.” And a second curt response, “We all have disabilities. What’s yours?”

Review by Annica Stivers, CLP-West End

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