by Sharon M. Draper
Unconditional Recommendation: 11-year-old Melody overcomes the limitations of her cerebral palsy to communicate with others and finally share the thoughts and smarts that have been locked away inside her mind.
This book is a fascinating take on what it might be like for a genius-level mind to try and live in a body with cerebral palsy—having full mental facilities but no control verbally or physically. I suggest you suspend your disbelief and fall into the imagination of the character and the story. There’s much to enjoy and take away from this book and I’ll share a few of mine: the importance and value of words, consideration for those who live with any limiting physical condition, and gratitude for everyday things we often don’t notice. This book gets me thinking and encourages me to care about others.
Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there’s no delete button. She’s the smartest kid in her whole school—but NO ONE knows it. Most people—her teachers and doctors included—don’t think she’s capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again. If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows…but she can’t, because Melody can’t talk. She can’t walk. She can’t write. Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind—that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever. At last Melody has a voice…but not everyone around her is ready to hear it.
Living with Limitations – Everyone lives with some degree of limitations, but for a great many, they have to live life very differently because of how severely restricting their bodies can be. Though this book centers on Melody’s experience with cerebral palsy, I found myself thinking of all the people I know who live with unseen chronic health conditions. Melody will never be able to live life without help, without extra work and accommodation, or without caretakers. I think this book does a fantastic job exploring—with snarky observation, a sense of humor, and an enduring positive outlook—what it’s like to live life while limited.
The Value of Life – I love the value that is placed on life in this book. It’s not a loud statement, but the gentle truth is there. Melody often compares herself to her classmates when she’s integrated into some regular classes with the able-bodied students and her observations point out the slight devaluing of her life and being because she’s so different and has a body that cannot be controlled. Life, even one that is disabled—be it cerebral palsy, getting old, or a chronic condition—has value and is worth living and supporting. At the end of the day, this story subtly communicates that truth.
The Importance of Words – Words and language is so important for growth, interaction, development, participation and relationships. Melody cannot speak but collects words in her head, all the while longing to be able to communicate them.
Gratitude – We can easily take for granted what comes easily to us because when it’s effortless we don’t have to think it through or even notice it. Melody and her various caretakers must think through every task from getting food into the mouth and not on the shirt to the logistics of getting her from here to there. Melody watches her baby sister and longs for what comes easy to her such as speaking, walking and eating. Reading this book inspired thoughts of gratitude as I noticed the activities I’m able to do without thinking or without much effort.
Every person has a cast of characters in their sphere that add to who they are and who they become. The various characters that influence Melody’s life—whether in a big or small way—encourage me to be one of them, to be someone who pours good into the characters whose stories I get to share in.
Melody – “It’s like I live in a cage with no door and no key. And I have no way to tell someone how to get me out.” I resonated with so many of Melody’s observations and introspections throughout the book. It makes the story, regardless of its flaws, beautiful and true to human experience. Melody’s desires are timeless: to be accepted by her peers, to communicate with her loved ones, and to participate in life just like everyone else.
Mom – Melody’s mom is her primary caretaker and advocate. Both parents clearly love Melody, but we get more scenes with Mom and Melody navigating tricky situations. Because Melody has little physical and verbal control, most doctors and teachers assume that her brain also doesn’t function properly. I love the scene when Mom stands up to the doctor who declared Melody to be “severely brain-damaged and profoundly retarded” and suggests moving her to a residential facility. She says, “But a person is so much more than the name of a diagnosis on a chart!” Though Mom comes to bat for Melody, she is portrayed as human and having her breaking points.
Mrs. Violet Valencia – Melody calls her “Mrs. V” and she’s the neighbor who’s a friend to the family and is undaunted by caring for and supporting her. I think every person benefits from having a cheerleader in their corner and that’s what Mrs. V is to Melody. She doesn’t let Melody fall into self-pity but works with her, teaches her, and patiently adds goodness and ability to Melody’s life. She’s an inspiration.
Catherine – Partway through the story, Catherine comes in as Melody’s personal school aide. Catherine’s kindness and diligence in caring for and assisting Melody is admirable and heartwarming. Every person has the ability to add goodness to another person’s life in some way and it doesn’t matter how big or small that contribution is.
This book has the potential to widen your perspective, plant seeds of empathy, and instill gratitude in your heart.
The ending was not what I expected, but I adored the symmetry—how the book comes full circle back to the beginning of the story—and I appreciated the author adding an event that put Melody’s hurts in perspective. There are so many different kinds of suffering in this world and though Melody endures quite a few, she maintains an enduring spirit.
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