Sunday, January 21, 2018

Out of My Mind (by Sharon Draper)

Title:  Out of My Mind

Author Sharon Draper

Target Ages:  10 and up

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Publisher Summary:
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. 

First Lines:
I’m surrounded by thousands of words.  Maybe millions…

Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes—each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands. 

Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts.  Mountains of phrases and sentences and connected ideas. Clever expressions.  Jokes. Love songs…

But only in my head. 

I have never spoken one singe word.  I am almost eleven years old. 

Growing up, I rarely saw anyone who was disabled.  When I did, I was uncomfortable and confused.  I did not have any significant encounters until well into adulthood, mostly working as a regular substitute teacher in special education classrooms. I am grateful for that experience.  I still do not fully understand though all that is involved with working with special education students, let alone understand what is going on inside them.  This book though brought me a little closer.

To me, a good book should broaden my experience and challenge my worldview.  Both prompt greater empathy and understanding. The middle grade novel Out of My Mind did all of that for me.

First, I could not help but think multiple times as I read, I wish I would have read novels like this as a student and especially as a novice teacher. It was so astonishing to get into the head of someone like the protagonist, Melody.  I realize each person has different abilities. However, I never much thought about the possibility that someone so physically disabled could have such a sharp mind and hidden abilities.

A main motif of the story is Melody’s desire to communicate. There are probably many disabled children (and adults) who yearn to express themselves, but cannot. She “acts out” because she wants to communicate something, but she incapable. Melody thinks, “But sometimes that’s how I feel—like wouldn’t it be cool if I had somebody to write the words over my head so people would know what I’m thinking?  I could live with that—large bubbles above me, speaking for me” (87).  Her feelings of frustration and isolation are depicted vividly, but the story never plunges into hopelessness.

The novel chronicles Melody’s many social highs and lows.  She longs to fit in with her peers.  In fifth grade, she begins some mainstream classes.  When another student whispers in her ear during class about an upcoming trip together, she reveals, “I felt like a real girl” (117). I do not think that most people, and especially not most children, think about the possibility that disabled students may desperately want to be “normal” and be accepted by them.  The novel is an excellent springboard for that discussion.

There are many other ways the novel challenges how people think about those with physical limitations.  For instance, Melody fears (and rightly so) that her peers think her “brain is messed up like the rest of” her (153). Many people speak as if she does not understand them and even worst speak in front of her as if she were an imbecile.  Several of her teachers demonstrate in word and deed that they do not think she has much going on in her brain.  Mr. Dimmings, her geography teacher, announces to the class that the quiz questions were not difficult enough because Melody got them all correct. Another teacher drills the same couple letters of the alphabet over and over with her even though Melody can read proficiently and has a photographic mind.  I felt angry at the other characters while simultaneously challenging my own preconceived notions of the disabled. 

One of the best parts of the book is Melody’s resilience in the midst of circumstances most of us cannot imagine.  She faces bullies with humor, and she respectfully stands up to teachers who belittle her.  Her best quality is her determination to “delete, delete, delete” negative words from others as well as her own self-talk. Some pretty harrowing incidents occur (especially toward the end of the novel). However, Melody makes a concerted effort to face them head on and to persevere gracefully.

Another highlight is the many people who endlessly support and challenger her.  My favorite is Mrs. V, her neighbor and caregiver.  Hours and hours are spent with Mrs. V, learning vocabulary, history, geography, and so forth. She does not allow Melody to get away with tantrums or to feel sorry for herself.  She treats her like a "normal" kid, which causes Melody to thrive.

Out of My Mind is a must-read middle grade novel.  I recommend this book to students, young adults, teachers, parents, grandparents, and everyone else.  After his novel, you will not see people the same way. 

Ideas for Extension Activities at Home or Lesson Plans for Teachers:
Study Guide with Discussion Questions, Writing Prompts, and Activities

For other Middle Grade Recommendations, visit Always in the Middle.


  1. I enjoyed this book immensely. Your review brought back many fond memories. You might also like last year's CALEB & KIT.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. I will check it out.

  2. Melanie sounds like a great character. So hard to be strength with everything she goes with.

  3. What a great, thoughtful review. Another book I need to read.

  4. One of my favorite books! I love Melody's sense of humor throughout the story. This one will soon be a movie and I look forward to how Melody is portrayed. Love Sharon Draper's books.

    1. Wow! I did not know that! I will definitely check it out when it is released.

  5. I love that description of words as snowflakes! Such an apt metaphor, since each individual snowflake is greeted like a precious gift, and yet mountains of snow can bury us alive. I'm so grateful for your recommendation, and can't wait to read this one!

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