You know I occasionally like to mix things up here and review a current book. That’s what I’m doing today with the amazing Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper.
Melody Parks is an eleven year old girl with a nearly photographic memory. She’s smarter than your average fifth grader. Way smarter, in fact. The problem is that nobody knows it because Melody has cerebral palsy. She’s in a wheelchair, and can not speak. She communicates by pointing to words and letters on a plastic board attached to her wheelchair.
Melody’s parents believe in her, even though her doctor recommends institutionalization, and the teacher in the ‘special’ room at the local school does little more than play Old MacDonald and go over the alphabet with them. She goes to a neighbor’s house after school, Mrs. V (the awesomely monikered Mrs. Violet Valencia) who is probably Melody’s number one cheerleader. She’s unwilling to accept anything less than perfection from Melody.
In the fifth grade, Melody begins to take inclusion classes, meaning she can leave the classroom for kids with disabilities, and take a few regular fifth grade classes with the help of an aide. It’s difficult for her to participate, but she’s happy to be with other kids. Her aide realizes Melody has a lot more she needs to say than what can be said with her letter board. Melody and her parents agree that she’ll get a medi-talker, a computer that hooks to her wheelchair to assist in communication.
This changes Melody’s life, as she’s able to participate in class. There is a Whiz Kids tournament coming up, and Melody aces the initial test. Because of that, she’s invited to try out for the team, despite the teacher openly thinking Melody’s passing was pure luck. Melody kicks ass on the test and is invited to the team.
The team wins their division, and while it’s covered in the local paper, Melody is horrified that she’s the subject of the article, not the whole team. It does not make her popular. She’s also dealing with a major cases of “Mean Girls,” in Molly and Claire, two fifth grade girls who also make the team. Despite it all, the team makes it to the national Whiz Kids championship in Washington, DC.
The day the family is to leave for DC, they get to the airport and discover that all flights have been cancelled due to a snowstorm. The other kids on the team found out about it and managed to get earlier flights. But no one, including the teacher or a girl (Rose) who Melody believed to be her friend, informed Melody’s parents.
Melody is shocked and depressed, but insists on going to school the following Monday. It’s a terrible morning, as it’s raining and Melody’s nurse mom has been called in to work, and Melody spills her breakfast. But Melody insists on going to school to face her classmates. Melody’s little sister, Penny, slips out the front door as Melody is being driven to school and is hit by their mom’s car.
An already bad day turns awful as Melody and Mrs. V wait on news of Penny from the hospital. Besides death, Melody’s worst fear is that Penny will end up like her, confined to a wheelchair forever. But Penny is all right, only her legs were run over, so she has surgery to repair some bones, but she will make a full recovery.
The book ends neither positively nor negatively. Melody has to hear Rose explain that she’s the one who failed to call about the cancelled flight. And Melody comes to understand that all fifth graders are dealing with a lot of things, but she has these extra layers to deal with. She is who she is, and she can’t change it.
- There aren’t enough books with wheelchair-bound protagonists. Can anyone recommend some more?
- Despite that Claire was the main Mean Girl in class, she has this moment where she’s bitchy, but so purely honest, I can’t help but be impressed. After Melody gets her Medi-Talker (which she’s named Elvira), Claire is shocked to hear Melody’s thoughts and says in front of the whole class, “I’m not trying to be mean – honest- but it just never occurred to me that Melody had thoughts in her head.” Melody, for her part, isn’t angry at Claire for those comments.
- Ugh, the dick teacher. After Melody kicked ass on the initial quiz for Whiz Kids, this is what he said: “If Melody Brooks can win the first round, my questions must not be hard enough!” He tries to make up for it later, but unlike Claire, he’s an adult so I don’t have much sympathy for him.
- Melody has synesthesia, which means she visualizes colors when hearing music. It also happens to be one of her Whiz Kids questions. Anyone ever hear of synesthesia? Or have it for that matter? It sounds awesome.
- This book is beautiful. I can’t say enough good things about it. I’m off to check out the author’s other works!