Friday, April 8, 2011

Out Of My Mind - Sharon M. Draper

Title: Out Of My Mind
Author: Sharon M. Draper
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 295 pages
Genre: Children's Realistic Fiction
Started: April 7, 2011
Finished: April 7, 2011

Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there's no delete button. She's the smartest kid in her whole school—but no one knows it. Most people—her teachers and doctors included—don't think she's capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again. If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows . . . but she can't, because Melody can't talk. She can't walk. She can't write.
Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind—that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever. At last Melody has a voice . . . but not everyone around her is ready to hear it.

From multiple Coretta Scott King Award winner Sharon M. Draper comes a story full of heartache and hope. Get ready to meet a girl whose voice you'll never, ever forget.

I love it when books focus on sensitive issues, especially when they're written for kids. Out of My Mind reminded me of Terry Trueman's Stuck In Neutral, which some of our schools use for our grade 7s and 8s. The story is similar if anyone's familiar with Stuck In Neutral, except Melody in Out of My Mind doesn't have to worry about a parent wanting to 'put her out of her misery' like the boy in Stuck In Neutral.

Melody has cerebral palsy, and as such, she can't walk, talk, and has limited control over her body movements. However, Melody's incredibly smart, and has a photographic memory. The only thing is, nobody knows this except her. Even her parents, who suspect she's quite bright, don't know exactly how smart she is. Melody suffers through dumbed-down lessons in her special education classroom and yearns to be able to speak her mind. When her aide Catherine comes across a machine that will allow Melody to speak by selecting words they program into it, Melody knows this is her opportunity to be able to express herself. But with Melody able to prove how smart she really is, will she be accepted by the other kids, who can't see past her disability?

This book shines in a few areas, but I have issues with some things. The author does a wonderful job of describing Melody's limitations on a day-to-day basis and her frustration with it: not being able to feed herself, needing someone to help her in the bathroom, and the limitations of her communication board. Melody's education experience isn't very realistic in my opinion as a teacher. I understand not every school board practices inclusive environments for special needs kids (I work for a Catholic school board, so we do), but even so, Melody making progress with one teacher's methods would've been documented in her IEP (Individual Education Plan), which forthcoming teachers cannot ignore like the 3rd grade teacher she mentions not reading the records. Plus her file would be reviewed on a yearly basis to accommodate her growing needs and understanding, so there'd be no excuse for Melody's frustration with doing the alphabet in grade 5 if she's at the level where she could do novel studies with accommodations. So that part wasn't really believable as far as I was concerned. The antagonists were really bad cliches that were pretty one-dimensional, which I get that the focus is on Melody, but kids need to know that people that they think are mean aren't always so one-dimensional, that they might have a reason for feeling the way they do that's at the root of their actions. I really liked the crisis with the quiz team at the end, it shows that people can indeed be cruel and there's no excuse for it, and people need to be called out on when they're cruel to others. The incident with Melody's sister at the end I could've done without, it seemed like the author was just adding to the drama with more drama and it felt like overkill at that point.

This is a wonderful book that shows our biases about what we think certain people are capable of, and that when we underestimate people, we should be prepared to have our biases thrown back in our faces.

Read this. It's truly a wonderful book that will change how you view people. A must-have for classrooms too.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the image of the fish purposely jumping out of the bowl, which Melody mentions in the book, it fits with the story quite well.

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