Saturday, September 11, 2010
Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper
Fifth-grader Melody has a photographic memory and is incredibly smart, but no one knows it. She has cerebral palsy and is unable to speak. For years, people around her assumed that she was as dumb as she appeared. Until she gets a computer that helps her form sentences, she's been limited to a very small vocabulary of words on a tray chart, which hardly persuaded them otherwise. The only exceptions were her parents, a care-giving neighbor, and a few isolated teachers.
This may all change for her this year when she is granted the opportunity to compete in a national Whiz Kids contest. Despite the reservations (and outright prejudice) of her peers and teacher, she reveals a strong talent. But the struggle to be accepted by her classmates is far more important to Melody and may be the one thing she can't quite pull off, no matter how many quiz questions she can ace.
Draper has crafted an easily understood story about disability, pride, and struggle that will appeal to young readers. I got a little tired of the two-dimensional portrayals (the bad people are downright mean and evil, while the good ones are perfect), but one assumes that Draper was aiming down for her audience. Melody is a notable exception to this oversimplification and her complex feelings and struggle for peer acceptance is universally relatable. It's not all puppies and roses at the end, but you'll find it hard to suppress a cheer for her nonetheless.