Melody is 11 years old and has cerebral palsy which keeps her active mind imprisoned by a body which she cannot manipulate–except her thumbs. In a wheelchair she can neither feed herself, sit up, nor go to the bathroom by herself. Although she cannot speak to those around her, Melody narrates her own story. Her frustration both with her physical inability to communicate and others’ perception that her mind must be as affected as her body is palpable.
I found myself physically straining with her to try and communicate in some way with those around her and feeling hopeless with her when she is misunderstood or simply ignored. I felt both her joy and the longing when she becomes a big sister, but must watch her younger sister walk and talk so easily–and watch her parents delight in every moment of it. Along with Melody, I felt a surge of hope and gratitude for her neighbor, the former teacher, Mrs. V, who sees the intelligence, creativity and talents behind Melody’s physical limitations.
When Melody sees Stephen Hawking on TV, she, her paraprofessional and her parents research and ultimately obtain a Medi-Talk computer to help her communicate. I cried with Melody’s mother when Melody speaks “through” the computer the first time.
After her initial elation Melody discovers that finding a voice others can hear can’t dispel the judgments and cruelty of others–both peers and adults. Fifth Grade is still Fifth Grade with all its struggles in addition to the many additional challenges Melody must navigate unique to her situation. When, poised in the verge of her biggest triumph to date, her classmates–even those she believed to be friends–commit an unforgiveable cruelty Melody is faced with a painful decision universal to growing up: give up or keep going forward. No one would blame Melody for giving up–many in less difficult situations probably would.
This story is about discovering who we are as individuals, how that guides and shapes us as we grow up. It is a story which tries to put a face and a voice to so many people we judge and dismiss from our lives along the way. It is about how to see and hear each other on a deeper level.
Technically, Melody’s voice almost always sounds like an authentic 11-year-old. I agree with some other reviewers that it does slip occasionally (the narrator will suddenly sound like an adult ‘trying’ to be a child instead of just a kid talking). The author includes a horrific family event near the end which–in my opinion–is not only unnecessary to the story but deprives Melody of the depth her resolution of the school situation could have had. For me its addition took the punch out of the ending.
This book was recommended by a friend whose 5th Grade daughter came home insisting SHE read it. I, in turn, recommended it to a 4th Grade teacher who read it to her class–and they LOVED it–never wanted her to stop reading. I am thrilled it is a Lovelace nominee for 2013-14!
Regardless of what we bring to and take away from the book as adults, what makes an impression on me is how deeply this book seems to speak to the children who are Ms. Draper’s intended audience. HIGHLY recommended!
(Study/discussion questions at end are great if using it as a classroom or family read-aloud.)