Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
By the time I was two, all my memories had words, and all my words had meanings.
But only in my head.
I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old.
Born with severe cerebral palsy, Melody is trapped inside her body. She has a photographic memory, remembers everything, but the only parts of her body she can control are her thumbs--fine for a TV remote--but of no other help to her or anyone else. Stuck inside her head, she feels like her goldfish, Ollie, trapped in his bowl.
I felt real mellow as I watched Ollie do his thing round and round his bowl.
But suddenly, Ollie dove down to the bottom and hurled himself right out of the bowl. He landed on the table. He gasped and flopped. His eyes bulged and the gills on his side pulsed with effort.
I didn't know what to do. He'd die without water-- So I screamed. Mom didn't come right away. I screamed again. Louder. I screeched, but Mom didn't come running. I had to do something, so I stretched out my arm. I could barely touch Ollie's bowl. I figured if I could get the fish wet, a least I might be able to save him. I pulled. Water splashed everywhere.
Finally I heard my mother thundering up the stairs.
She took one look at the mess and the dying goldfish and shouted, "Melody! What have you done?"
Unable to explain any of it to her mother, Melody feels helpless. She even understands why Ollie wanted out of his bowl. She feels the same way.
But when a well-meaning but unperceptive doctor diagnoses her as mentally retarded, Melody's mother enrolls her in the local school, where she is assigned to the handicapped class. Glad for the change of scene, but stuck with students who cannot even learn the alphabet, she still feels like Ollie circling in his bowl. But like her mother, her sitter believes that Melody's intelligence is high, and on the internet she and Melody find a device, the Medi-Talker, that gives her a voice. Gradually, Melody is moved into the inclusion program and finds herself in fifth-grade classes with other kids, where her vocabulary and memory put her on an even playing field.
One teacher, Mr. Dimming, is the coach of the Quiz Kids team, and in a multiple-choice test, he discovers Melody's encyclopedic knowledge and allows her to join the after-school practice sessions in preparation for the city challenge match. But although Rose seems friendly and talks with Melody during recess, and Connor recognizes her as a worthy opponent for smartest kid in the class, others, particularly Claire and her clique, are cool to her, rolling their eyes and giggling at her behind their hands. Still, Melody makes the team and leads them to the city title, and the Spaulding School Quiz Kids qualify for the national finals in Washington, D.C., with an appearance on Good Morning America and a special tour of the White House.
But when Melody and her family arrive at the airport, they find that all flights have just been cancelled because of bad weather. Then she learns that her classmates had had breakfast together and arrived early enough to make the last flight out for the day--and no one notified her family.It's small comfort to Melody that without her, the team finishes poorly, in ninth place,. Back at school, she has just one question. She types it and turns the volume up loud.
"Why did you leave me?"
Even the teacher squirms, saying that in the run to make the last flight, there was not enough time. Then Connor, clearly uncomfortable, stands up and tells Melody that the team wants her to have their ninth-place trophy. He places it on her tray.
The thing is small, made of cheap plastic painted to look like metal. The name of the school is even spelled wrong on the faceplate.
I look at the ugly little statue, and I start to giggle. Then I crack up.
"I don't want it!" I finally type. Then, turning the volume as loud as it will go, I add...
"YOU DESERVE IT!"
Still laughing, I do a smooth turn and roll myself out of the classroom.
Award-winning author Sharon Draper's Out of My Mind (Atheneum Books, 2014) gives her main character a unique inner and outer voice for those handicapped children who, like Melody, feel trapped inside and yet on display in their own goldfish bowls among normal people. It's easy to say "we're all handicapped in some way," a truism that isn't even true, but Draper doesn't talk down to her readers, telling it like it is, right down to Melody's observation that "going to the bathroom in school sucks." A lot of things about her life do, frankly, but Melody's spirit gives some credence to the strength of the human personality to overcome. With a first-person narrator, the reader sees the adults and kids in Melody's world only through her eyes, but the personal point of view is essential to the power of this novel. Middle readers will find this book uncomfortable, yet fascinating, a way to escape their own limited viewpoints of others. As Kirkus says in their starred review, "Unflinching and realistic, ...rich in details of both the essential normalcy and the difficulties of a young person with cerebral palsy."