Out of My Heart
Out of My Heart, Sharon Draper’s sequel to Out of My Mind, is every bit as powerful and moving as the first book. The reader gets to spend time again with Melody, an 11 year old who refuses to let her wheelchair define her. For those new to the character, the book lets us know from the first sentence that she’s different from most kids: “The firefly hovered over the back of my hand, then landed— slowly, effortlessly. . . . I tried not to tremble. My hands often move on their own, whether I want them to or not, so I focused intensely, willing myself to remain still.” And just like that, as delicately as the firefly, Draper has given us important information about the narrator.
Draper doesn’t tiptoe around Melody’s condition. Melody lets us know right away why she’s in a wheelchair and how much she hates the term “special needs.” The honesty is bracing and refreshing, bringing us closer to the character and her world:
“I’ve been seen by zillions of doctors and therapists and specialists—so many I can’t even count. My parents do a great job of making sure I get the best medical and therapeutic care possible. But those doctors sometimes mess up too. Like, they’ll say I ‘suffer from’ or I’m ‘afflicted with’ cerebral palsy. Spoiler alert: I’m not suffering from anything. And just so you know, CP is not a disease. It is not contagious. . . . My body simply doesn’t work like most of the people I know, and cerebral palsy is the name the doctors call my condition. It is what it is. And P.S., the mental part of my brain kicks butt.”
After showing us how loving and supportive Melody’s family is, the drama starts when she is accepted into a summer camp for precisely these “special needs,” a camp for kids who need extra attention and help. And this is the real gift of the novel. Draper shows us a range of kids and their conditions, making each one distinctive. In this book, she has single-handedly done more for disability awareness than any other story in recent memory. Beyond that, she makes even the camp counsellors interesting. One, Sage, tried out for the U.S. Olympic swim team but didn’t make it. As Melody muses:
“Hmm, I never thought about that—that you almost never hear about the folks who didn’t make the team.”
Through Sage, Melody learns that “losers” can be winners. Beyond pushing herself with experiences she’s never risked before (swimming, a zip line, horseback riding!), the camp offers Melody what’s she missed most by being in a wheelchair—friends. There’s a lovely scene where the girls in her cabin share stories of their “otherness” and what it’s like for each of them in school. Being seen and heard, they finally feel accepted, and camp gives them a newfound sense of pride in themselves and what they can do.
The book closes with the camp graduation ceremony, and just as the parents reach for the conveniently placed tissues for their tears, the ending will have everyone crying in the best possible way. Draper has done it again: made us all aware of what really makes us human. Walking and talking aren’t the essential ingredients. Thinking, feeling, and connecting are.