Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Out of My Mind

Sharon Draper's Out of My Mind is the story of eleven-year-old Melody, born with cerebral palsy and unable to walk, talk, feed herself, or take care of any of her basic needs. Doctors, many teachers, and a host of other adults assume she is incapable of learning, but Melody is highly intelligent and thoughtful, with a mind is full of thoughts she is unable to express and a photographic memory. The book begins:

Words.
I’m surrounded by thousands of words. Maybe millions.
Cathedral. Mayonnaise. Pomegranate.
Mississippi. Neapolitan. Hippopotamus.
Silky. Terrifying. Iridescent.
Tickle. Sneeze. Wish. Worry.

Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes—each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands.
Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts. Mountains of phrases and sentences and connected ideas. Clever expressions. Jokes. Love songs.
From the time I was really little—maybe just a few months old—words were like sweet, liquid gifts, and I drank them like lemonade. I could almost taste them. They made my jumbled thoughts and feelings have substance. My parents have always blanketed me with conversation. They chattered and babbled. They verbalized and vocalized. My father sang to me. My mother whispered her strength into my ear.
Every word my parents spoke to me or about me I absorbed and kept and remembered. All of them.
I have no idea how I untangled the complicated process of words and thought, but it happened quickly and naturally. 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.

Compelling and believable, the novel made me think about the nature of intelligence, the relationship between communication and identity, the assumptions we make about people based on limited information, the meaning of the concept "disabled," the experience of living with diverse impairments and whether it is possible for someone without that experience to understand it, how we know what we know, and the moral dimension of the category "disabled." A great book to read with upper elementary or middle school students.

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