Book Recommendation: Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper

The Author

Sharon Draper is an American author and teacher who writes books for children and teenagers. She often tackles difficult or challenging topics in her writing (for example, this book is about the discrimination faced by a child with a disability, and another of her books deals with the violent racism faced by African-American families in 1932), but does so through compelling stories rather than lecturing to the reader.

Draper’s extremely comprehensive website is here, and includes all sorts of resources which would be useful for teachers reading her books with their students.

The Book

Out of My Mind tells the story of eleven-year old Melody, an extremely intelligent child who happens to be non-verbal and wheelchair bound. She has cerebral palsy and when she was very young, doctors told her parents that she was profoundly intellectually disabled. Fortunately, there are people in Melody’s life – her family; her neighbour, Mrs V; certain teachers – who can see that there is a lot going on in this little girl’s head if you can only see past her physical difficulties. With communication boards and an electronic talking device, Melody gradually becomes more and more able to interact with the outside world, including the teachers and students at the mainstream school she attends.

In fact, with Melody’s improved ability to communicate, she is able to join her school’s team in a competitive trivia contest, and gets an opportunity to travel interstate to take part in the finals. Not everything goes to plan, but Melody’s reactions to events as they unfold are achingly well-written and one scene in particular is breathtakingly satisfying.

Why I Love It

This is a beautiful book. It’s a not a feel-good, chirpy story about a sweet disabled child who conquers the world – it’s far more realistic than that. There are times when Melody is as contrary, sulky, and stubborn as any child, and there are times when her mother utterly loses her cool. There are even times when Melody gets so frustrated with her inability to communicate that she has what she calls ‘tornado explosions’:

Nobody gets it. Nobody. Drives me crazy.

So every once in a while I really lose control. I mean really. My arms and legs get all tight and lash out like tree limbs in a storm. Even my face draws up. I sometimes can’t breathe real well when this happens, but I have to because I need to screech and scream and jerk.

– Out of My Mind, p15

Many things are tough for Melody, and making friends with the other kids at her school is one of the toughest. I love the way she learns some hard lessons (as do they), and there is a chapter in the book that I occasionally re-read just to cheer her on as she confronts inequity. Reading this book makes me feel like Draper must personally know someone who confronts the issues that Melody faces – either that, or she has done a superlative job of researching what it’s like to be a person with a disability.

Out of My Mind is very reminiscent of R. J. Palacio’s Wonder, and highly recommended for anyone who enjoyed that book.

Where To Get It

Out of My Mind is fairly widely available, and there are multiple copies on the shelf in my local library system. However, I knew from the beginning that this was one I wanted for myself, so I purchased this version from Book Depository.