“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 respect and appreciation 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 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 never understand her. We marvel at her photographic memory and incredible intellect. 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 smells like freshly turned soil, and her favorite music, country, “is lemons- not sour, but sugar sweet and tangy.” For most of her eleven years of life, Melody has only been able to “talk” with limited words. Her entire vocabulary is pasted on a plexiglass tray. She points out the words she wants to use and desperately wishes there were more. 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 most 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 pushes her to 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. Mrs. Valencia and Melody's parents are one of the very few people who see the potential and genius inside of this girl.
And then there are 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; and 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. A simple smile can brighten the soul of any individual.
Melody, along with these 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 their beauty and power. Imagine if words were taken away. Imagine all the things we would lose. All the 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 into 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, 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.