Thursday, April 17, 2014

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Eleven year old Melody is the smartest kid in her whole school. But no one else knows it. Most people think she is incapable of learning. That's because Melody has severe cerebral palsy - she can't talk, walk, or write.

This book is narrated by Melody herself and presents a unique opportunity to see what it's like to be in her situation.

I was really excited to read this book, but too many annoyances interfered with my enjoyment. Do you remember how you cringed whenever an After School Special came on TV? Reading this gave me the same kind of feeling. It's wonderful to have a novel told in the first person by a fifth grader who is unable to talk due to her cerebral palsy. I'm so glad Sharon Draper has given these children a voice. And there are some terrific things in this book, however they don't outweigh some of the flaws in Draper's writing.

I have 3 primary concerns:
* The first third of the book (100 pages) is dedicated to describing  the things Melody can't do. There was essentially no plot development, just a lot of being sad and frustrated. While I'm sure that sad and frustrated are common feelings for people with severe CP, a book needs more than that to stay compelling. The overwhelming feeling I had while reading it was that this was just an after school special. Never fear, all is well in the end. Yep. I've seen that story somewhere before...

* I read another review that pointed out how dated this book is and I fully agree. The slang used by the child characters reads like the early nineties. Which is surprising because the book was published in 2010. Phrases like "that's what's up" and "it was the bomb" kept popping up and annoying me. There was also frequent mention of MySpace. Boo. It's a shame that a book with great potential has been marred by such silly things, but they made it really hard to take seriously because I didn't feel like Melody was actually talking, it felt like a grown up imitating her. Which is exactly what the book is.

* Finally, one of Melody's teachers was very mean to her. Repeatedly. As a fifth grade teacher, I was offended by this. No teacher I know would  EVER be so egregiously awful to a student.

Maybe I'm being too harsh, though, because a bunch of my fifth grade students have read Out of My Mind. They have universally loved it, recommended it to their friends, and talked with me about how it affected their thinking about people with disabilities. Hooray!

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge.

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