Melody Brooks is smart, very smart. And she knows what she wants to say most of the time. Trouble is, she can’t—she literally cannot speak. “It’s no wonder everybody thinks I’m retarded. . . . I hate that word, by the way.” Diagnosed with cerebral palsy and wheelchair-bound, 10-year-old Melody can’t walk or talk, but her mind is filled with words, sounds, colors, phrases, music and just about everything else she’s ever seen or heard—though it doesn’t do her much good stored silently inside. “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,” Melody thinks.

Told through the eyes, ears and mind of Melody, Out of My Mind is loosely based on the experiences of the author’s daughter. It’s a startlingly candid, pull-no-punches account of a life that is often frustrating but also uplifting.

While schoolmates and even some teachers dismiss her, Melody is never underestimated by family and close friends. The book crescendos to two major events in Melody’s life—both of which have life-changing results.

Hopefully the novel will be life-changing for readers as well. It’s hard to put down Melody’s tale in all its rawness and honesty. The chapters are fast-paced; events are brilliantly described. And while Melody is the star, Sharon Draper also vividly draws the characters who interact with her.

But don’t peg this as a gloom-and-doom book about a girl with special needs. By the end of the book, readers will not only triumph with Melody, they will also unequivocally gain a deeper insight into what the word “disabled” really means.

A must for middle-grade readers, Out of My Mind should launch great discussions in families and classrooms.

Freelance writer Sharon Verbeten lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she faces her own joys and challenges in raising a special-needs child

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