Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Out of My MindI wasn't entirely sure that I wanted to read Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (Simon & Schuster - Atheneum). Without being too specific, I had certain personal preconceptions about the book and what it might be about, and I wasn't interested in some fiction along that vein.

That said, I ended up enjoying Out of My Mind despite myself, and despite several points where I thought the book would go off the rails. Eleven-year-old Melody has cerebral palsy, and her ability to move and to communicate with her family is very limited, but at the same time, she's a very smart girl--and that was my first eyebrow-raise. Of course, we should never assume that a physical disability equals--or comes with--an intellectual one. I have had experience (not always directly) with the extremes, though: the almost-magical discovery that there is a brilliant mind at work with little physical sign of it, and the despair of hoping that someone's still in there. So, I was worried that this was going to be fiction of that super-idealized sort, where it's just--I don't know, not realistic.

What did become realistic for me was Melody's struggle for not just inclusion, but inclusion once she goes to school. She not only has to contend with the petty power struggles and bullying that come with growing up--the ones I think happen no matter how hard we try to encourage children to refrain--but with not fitting in in other ways related to her CP. And then there's the horror that even though Melody is vital to the school's trivia team, they don't see it that way.

Disability advocates will notice a few instances where person-centric language isn't used; I think that the differences make sense in context. One man says that his son is in a wheelchair, where person-centric language would have him say that his son is a wheelchair user, I think; the more important factor, for me, was that he acted to remove an access barrier for Melody without it being a big deal. Also, of course, people with disabilities are not all in agreement about a lot of things, including language use. Those with some knowledge of "the system" may get a little frustrated, too, with the slow pace of access to services like a communication device for Melody and her oddly-planned access to classes in school. I don't recall an IEP meeting for Melody, but it's been a long time since I read this, now (I've had a draft open for months), and it may have happened off-screen.

A fair warning is that Out of My Mind doesn't have the sort of ending where our heroine gets everything she wants, and that feels especially unfair because she starts at such a disadvantage. Yet, I still think this makes for a good middle-grade read, because middle-grade readers are--due to age, etc.--in a state of restriction, and even if their situations are different, I think they'll identify with Melody's desire to be heard and to have more agency. And Melody is a really fantastic character with an outstanding voice. I'd want her on my team.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails