“Everybody uses words to express themselves. Except me. And I bet most people don’t realize the real power of words. But I do.” Words are beautiful and costly. We constantly use and abuse them. We lift each other up with smiles and thoughtful words. But in the next moment, fire pours out of our lips, and we regret the things we can’t take back.
We don’t give words the appreciation and respect they deserve.
But what if we could never say a single word? What then?
This is the premise of Sharon M. Draper’s award-winning novel, Out of My Mind. Readers are launched into the perspective of Melody, a girl whose vibrant personality is trapped inside a body that is unable to walk, talk, or write. A girl who calls us to consider the questions we never thought to ask: What if we could never talk? Do we appreciate words enough? What if we could never say the priceless words, “I love you”?
The character of Melody is beautifully written. She doesn’t want our sympathy, rather she wants us to see her as a real person. We share her longing for a voice that can form the words constantly crowding her mind. Readers simultaneously laugh and grumble when she recounts stories of incompetent doctors who can never understand her. We marvel at her photographic memory and incredibly smart nature. We can savor the colors, smells, and flavors that flood her mind whenever music plays. The beautiful mind where Beethoven symphonies are “bright blue” and “smell like fresh paint”, where Jazz is “brown and tan, and it smells like fresh dirt”, and her favorite music, country, “is lemons- not sour, but sugar sweet and tangy.” For most of her eleven-year-old life, Melody has only been able to “talk” with limited words. Words that are pasted on a plexiglass tray, so naturally she doesn’t have many words to work with. This thoughtful novel takes a turn when Melody finds a machine that will help her talk. A machine that stores countless phrases and expressions. A machine where Melody can type whatever she wants. A machine that speaks the words Melody has never been able to say. But is everyone ready to hear the words she’s stored up inside?
An assortment of other memorable and lovable characters are found in the pages of Out of My Mind. Mrs. Violet Valencia, a good friend and neighbor, is one of the more inspiring figures in Melody’s life. She’s about as unusual as her name, and readers will love her for it. She doesn’t let Melody wallow in self-pity. She makes Melody learn because she knows that Melody is capable.
Melody’s parents are also endearing. One of my favorite quotes is from Melody’s father: “Your life is not going to be easy, little Melody,” he’d say quietly, “If I could switch places with you, I’d do it in a heartbeat. You know that, don’t you?” Melody’s mother is strong and filled with a protective nature. With quiet endurance, both parents help Melody on her journey in beautiful ways.
And then there’s the kids that constantly surround Melody in the special needs room. Freddy, who always wants to rush through life; Willy, a boy immersed in baseball facts; gentle and kind Maria; music fanatic Gloria. Unfortunately, many people don’t see the beautiful qualities of these kids but only linger on their disabilities. This novel calls readers to look for those who feel unloved and unwanted. This book reminds us that even a smile can brighten someone’s day.
Melody, along with these other characters, taught me how to value words. As writers, we utilize words often. We pound them out on our keyboards, we groan at the plot, we delete portions and start over. Words can be frustrating, yes, but Out of My Mind calls us to recognize the beauty and power of words. Imagine if words were taken away. Imagine all the things we would lose. All those moments covered in the delicate glow of remembrance, all the triumphant speeches we rally around, all the stories we devour. Let us follow Melody’s example and not forget the power of words.
Words. A smile. Suddenly the “simple” things in life have collided to create something far more profound. With delicate threads of humor, bittersweet longing, and hope, Draper has crafted a novel that will change the way we view words and understand people. Perfect for lovers of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, or anyone who enjoys an engaging story, Out of My Mind will immerse you in the power of words and call you to remember that every person is precious.
Draper, S. M. (2012). Out Of My Mind. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.