Saturday, December 4, 2010

Book Review: Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

As I said in yesterday's post,  while I loved Mockingbird, my one complaint might be that I think it may be more of a critics' (and parents') choice than one of young adolescents.   There is another book that covers some of the same themes that appears to be more popular with the tweens I know from our local Mock Newbery Club and some other online clubs (at least, according to their blogs).  That book, Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, is the subject of today's special Hanukkah book review.

Like the protagonist in Mockingbird, the narrator of Out of My Mind has some special challenges that make other students in her school dismiss her, unaware of the incredible gifts she holds inside.  In the case of ten-year-old Melody, she has a photography memory and is probably the smartest child in the school.  Unfortunately, due to her severe Cerebral Palsy, which has rendered her incapable of speech or writing,  Melody has never been able to communicate her inner brilliance to anyone else.  So instead of winning praise for her outstanding memory, she is shunted into Special Education classes that some years can be valuable, but other years nothing but a boring waste of time--depending on the attitude of her teacher.  She also sometimes attends part of a regular classroom, where the other students tend to either shun or mock her.  But despite the difficulties and frustrations, Melody searches for a way to prove herself to the world around her.

This is another good book.  Some of the passages are quite poetic, especially when Melody describes how words feel to her, or how she associates music with different colors (which is a real condition, called synethesia, that many musical talents, including Leonard Berstein, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, and Duke Ellington, apparently share).  Of course, since it is told in the first person, we readers get to hear what is going on in Melody's head, which is much more fluid language than the more silted conversations Mockingbird's Caitlin carries on with herself.  And it covers many the same themes about about not underestimating either oneself or others, being less judgmental about people with differences, and the difficulty in status and relationships that is so prevalent in middle school, obvious disability or not.

And I'm suspecting that it is easier for middle schoolers to learn those lessons from Melody rather than the more-difficult-to-get-in-synch-with Caitlin, even those Melody's handicap is more extreme.  I'm thinking that is why most of the middle schoolers I know prefer this book to Mockingbird.  I don't know whether that kind of thing figures into the Newbery committee or not.  But my personal advice, as a parent, is to give Out of My Mind to your tweens, and save Mockingbird for your teens.

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