I have a confession. I almost always judge my books by their covers. I’ll admit it, I’m bad about my book choices. So often, I will pick a book strictly by its cover, or even just their titles. Cute cat on the cover? Sounds Lame, I won’t touch it. Kick butt female fighter, most definitely. I do the same thing with wine, and records sometimes, too. Occasionally, this works out in my favor, or at least works well enough. Others, I learn a lesson: cute doesn’t always equal quality. The same can be said for people and this week’s read speaks exactly to that message. When I first read the title, “Out of My Mind,” I thought this book was about a crazy person, or someone who feels like they’re going crazy. In my defense, I enjoy books about brains gone wrong. I find them fascinating, and they open me to very diverse experiences. I wasn’t wrong with this book.
According to the details page, this book falls under a category called, genius fiction, and I certainly feel it fits this category. In Out of My Mind, Melody, a pugnacious, brilliant 5th grader struggles against the limitations set before her by her Cerebral Palsy diagnosis, and the limited views of those around her. Despite others assumptions of her based on her drool, her blank stare, and her limited vocalizations, Melody is brilliant. Hampered by her non-vocal state and lack of bodily autonomy, Melody can only communicate using her thumbs and the words provided to her by others. Until, she finds Elvira, that is. Elvira is a personal speaking device, similar to the device used by Stephen Hawking. With careful programming, Elvira opens the door to the world at Melody’s feet. Not only is she able to join regular classes, but she even earns herself a spot on a National Quiz Competition team. However, Melody learns, no matter what you tell someone, they will only believe what you show them.
This story is written from Melody’s point of view, giving a voice to someone who otherwise can not speak on her own, and the bulk of the story take place when she is in fifth grade. By this point she is pugnacious, highly intelligent, and wants to fit in as much as any other fifth grader. I love the way Sharon Draper shares Melody’s thoughts and impressions. We don’t learn anything that Melody doesn’t experience. We make assumptions of other people right along with her. Reading a personal story like Out of My Mind can often be very intimate. In Draper’s work, we get to know the intimate complications of advanced cerebral palsy; such as, needing to be lifted on to the toilet, and the self-image issues that many face. The message throughout this story, however, is clear. A disability doesn’t make you any less than any other person, and it certainly doesn’t mean you are dumb in the clinical or social sense.
I don’t want to give away too much, but there are parts of this book that are absolutely heartbreaking. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that made me gasp out loud. I was reading the last few chapters of this book on a brief road trip, and I actually started crying, to the point where my husband thought something was wrong in real life. But, no, just a book.
My favorite moment in the book comes close to the end and is a true moment of triumph. While my personal experiences in grade school were very different from Melody’s, I was also bullied and left out by the “cool” kids. When Melody confronts a classmate for excluding her from a team activity because of her disability, she uses her talking assistance device to say, “ You threw up. Nobody left you.” I feel this perfectly emphasizes the struggle of fitting in, no matter what your personally going through. Everyone is different. Everyone faces different obstacles. In that regard, we are all the same.
I really enjoyed this book. It was relatively quick for me, which was nice, but it also spoke to my soul, and the young me I remember struggling to make friends. I was a horse girl; crazier than the theater kids and weird than the future cat ladies of america. This stigma followed me in to college. I was also a dead language nerd, and a 4-H kid, and a member of quite a few other organizations that provided me the opportunity to make plenty of friends, but I never did. Maybe it was because I was an only child, or closed-minded, or bossy – all traits I feel I’ve hopefully grown out of or into by this point in my life. Or maybe, it’s because kids are mean. Being a child is formative, it is all about growth, and as a community we have to learn to teach are children that differences are just that, differences. Being different isn’t a bad thing. Looking or sounding different doesn’t diminish the objects value. Having different opinions doesn’t make other opinions wrong. Substance, what the thing, or person, or opinion, is made of, determines quality.
Sharon Draper started out as a language arts teacher and started publishing her writing at the encouragement of her students. Since her first short story, Sharon has gone on to write over 15 novels not including the Ziggy series for young readers. As is evident in her writing for Out of My Mind Sharon strives to encourages teachers and readers alike with inspirational stories of success and courage. Melody’s story is inspirational. Not only did she overcome physical barriers to her success put up by her genetics, and other people’s perceptions, but she overcame her emotional boundaries. Others strove to keep her out and she didn’t let their negative mindsets turn her bitter. She viewed each individual as an individual with flaws and strengths. She spoke for others by speaking up for herself, and was proud of her interests.
Do you like inspirational stories about children or people overcoming adversity? Do you enjoy learning about people’s life experiences that significantly differ from yours? If you answered yes to any of the above, then you will enjoy this book. It is obviously written for a younger audience, but that makes it easier to process. Given the way of the world these days, there are quite a few messages in here that are suitable for adults as much as, if not more than, children readers. While I do not have any disability, I did struggle with severe bullying throughout grade school and into highschool. I often felt left out and like an outcast by my classmates and even people I considered my friends. Perhaps this is something that many readers of many ages, can relate to. I know it’s just one reason that I loved this book.
If you liked Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, you should look into some of her other works. Copper Sun was one of Draper’s earlier publishings, and follows the life of Amari, an african slave in the Carolinas, as she fights for her life and freedom.
If you enjoyed learning about the mind locked away by disability, Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan is a fantastic, educational read about medical mysteries and the American medical system. This book carries much of the same emotional weight as Out of My Mind but with much more adult themes.
If you like the voice of Melody and want something with a similar feel, perhaps also for a younger reading audience, check out Where the Watermelon Grows by Cindy Baldwin, about a young girl’s struggle to heal her mama’s failing mental health with some homegrown magic.
Have you read Out of My Mind? Based on this review, do you think you will pick it up? Have you read any of my other recommendations? What do you think of them? Are there any other books that you think I might enjoy? For more great reading recommendations, follow me on GoodReads! I always love hearing from you so Please comment below or email me at Cherrieschocolateanddirt@gmail.com!
P.S. My giveaway is still live on my review from 7/21 for The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. On September 1st I’ll select who to give away this book to. Interested? Comment on the post for The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart with your insta or facebook handle!