I just finished rereading Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper. This is an amazing young adult novel that anyone can relate to and I believe forever makes us consider the abilities of anyone regardless of external difference.
Melody is twelve years old. Ever since she can remember she has been able to observe and remember every conversation she’s ever heard. Words just stay in her head. She picks up everything from her parents conversations to facts off TV shows and this is just as a very young child.
Melody is trapped in her head with all this information however because she can’t talk. She also can’t write. Or walk or feed herself or take herself to the bathroom. She has cerebral Palsy (cp) in which she has very little muscle control. The only thing that seems to work really well in her body besides her genus mind is her thumbs. When she’s little all she can do even with those is hit the play button on the DVD player or change the channel. Or point to words and letters on her communication board of which make up a microscopic amount of what she really has to say.
Through her story we get a glimpse into the life of someone who has so much to say. Who gets treated like she’s of very little intelligence because of her condition. But who picks up every single thing around her. She has a big personality. She loves certain styles of clothes. She’s able to see colors and taste tastes when certain music is played. Her parents and little sister can communicate with her in their own way. But it’s still a huge struggle.
Mr.s V is her door to being able to express all this andexpand her sense of self. To be able to within the physical limets of CP, be the person she wants to be.
Even as a baby/ toddler Mrs. V makes melody work. She has her out on the floor on blankets and pillows. Gets her to crawl for toys and scoot around. Using her muscles to the best of her ability. She talks to her like the person she knows Melody is.
It’s clear to Mrs. V that Melody is extremely smart. She puts lots of words on her communication board to help her express herself more. When she is with Mrs. V melody can basically be a regular kid. She’s not boxed in by other’s thoughts about her disability. She is expected and able to participate in everyday life.
It’s a good thing she has this in her life because the rest of her days are made up of sitting in a special ed class. The class has kids with down’s syndrome and other cognitive issues. Some teachers are able to work with each child’s individual strengths. One has melody listen to books on tape and she actually is able to be productive that year. They get a different teacher each year. One didn’t seem to think any of the kids could do anything and tried to teach them the alphabet endlessly. Melody threw a tantrum and her mom told the teacher off in front of the class.
Fifth grade was better. The teacher actually believed the kids were capable of something. They hired an aid for melody named Catherine. She loves her. They have the same sense of humor and get along very well. At the same time the school starts an inclusion program. Where the special ed kids participate in regular classes. This doesn’t work out for a lot of the kids but Melody jumps at the opportunity. She loves the music class. And then when she goes to other classes like English and history the teachers start to realize how intelligent she is and what’s been stuck in her all this time.
She’s able to give answers using her communication board with its words and alphabet strip. She meets a girl Rose who she likes and who treats her nicely. Other girls in her class are very open about being nasty to her and saying that anything she gets right Catherine did.
One day a girl brings in her laptop. Melody tells Catherine she wants a computer for her. That would help her be able to talk. Why no one thought of this when Melody was oh a toddler is beyond me. But anyway her parents and Mrs. V researched the best computer. It had to be approved by her doctor/ insurance and it took forever.
When Melody got it she was beside herself with joy. She named it alvira after a person in her favorite song. It seemed to have unlimited areas for words and phraises. There were ways to type stuff in in the moment or have things to save. It was hard work just using her thumbs but she had great control of them unlike the rest of her body.
She could finally say what she wanted and needed to say. Within the limets of a talking computer. You can feel her struggle throughout the books as she gains more ability to express herself but keeps coming up against the limets of her CP.
In her history class she hears about a local quiz competition. For fun the teacher gives a little sample quiz. Melody gets every question right! Of course even the teacher doesn’t really acknowledge this as possible and says so in front of everyone. Other kids also are very nasty that she won.
Mrs. V tells Melody that she’ll help her prove them wrong! That Melody will get into the competition and go as far as possible.
So begins a crazy amount of studying. The quiz covers all areas possible. Everything from English to math to history ETC. I think these kids that do the show could probably go from fifth grade right to high school with all they had to learn.
But Melody’s incredibly mind took it all in. When it came for the test to get the members for the local competition she again got on the team! This time the teacher couldn’t deny her hard work. Some students like Rose were proud of her. Others were still nasty to her face or just barely hidden.
Still she continued to go on. She worked well with the team on giving answers. But wish she could participate in the fast paced conversation around her again feeling so different from others. When she is unable to have pizza with everyone (she would have to be fed) she feels even worse.
The team goes to the local competition. And in a tense quiz game win! They go out to a restaurant. Where Melody eats in front of everyone, well is fed and it seems sadly embarrassing for everyone.
Because the team won they are representing their district to go to Washington to compete with all the other teams in the country.
It is another whirlwind two weeks but soon she’s ready. Her family Mrs. V Catherine and most of all Melody can’t be more proud of herself.
At the airport everything crashes down. The team got there early. They went to breakfast and came back to find that the scheduled flight was canceled due to weather. They just managed to catch the last available flight. How the teacher could do this I don’t know and it doesn’t seem quite realistic. But he left her behind. He asked one of the student’s Rose to call Melody’s parents. But in a silent agreement with the other students she only pretended to call.
Melody was heartbroken and the family outraged.
The next day tragedy strikes when Penny Melody’s sister is hit by their mother’s car backing out of the driveway. Melody tried her hardest to stop her through kicking hitting and screaming, she didn’t have alvira with her due to weather. This slowed her down but didn’t stop things. Of course Melody blamed herself. Feeling like she was a burden enough to eople anyway it should have been her that this happened to.
Luckily Penny only has a broken leg. It could have been a lot worse.
After almost losing her sister standing up to the betrayal of the class is easier. But still hard. She’d typed up a response and told everyone off. Rose was the only one who seemed truly sorry. It was clear that despite her intelligence and genuinely ggood humored personality all these superficial kids saw was her disability and how they’d look next to her. I don’t know what the teacher was thinking. Like I said the one thing in the book that just doesn’t make sense.
They got a cheap 9th place trophy. Melody on purpose though people thought if was by accident, knocked the trophy off her tray and it smashed on the floor.
Then she turned and wheiled herself out of the room.
I loved this book. It shows that anyone regardless of disability can do things they never thought possible as long as they have inner resources and outer support. It also shows that people with disabilities like CP probably are very intelligent but just can’t express it. And to be careful about not judging people because you don’t know what’s going on in their head if they can’t tell you.
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