Draper sets out to address social prejudices against those among us with disabilities, by enabling the reader to view the world through the eyes of 11-year-old Melody, a victim of cerebral palsy. Melody is confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk or even sit upright, cannot feed herself, has uncontrollable spasms of her arms and legs, and occasionally drools in public. Worst of all, however, is that she has a mind that functions at top speed, a photographic memory, a thirst for knowledge, a need to connect with people—and is unable to speak. Fortunately, she has parents and a neighbor who are her loving advocates. Unfortunately, the world outside her home tends to judge by appearance, and is insensitive, often rude, and sometimes downright brutal.
This is Melody’s “memoir,” filled with her excitement, her hopes, and her frustrations. We are with her in her special ed class at school, where she views other disabled students with enormous acceptance, patience, and humor. We are also with her in her “inclusion” (mainstream) classes, where she must deal with the prejudices and even cruelty of fellow students and some teachers but also opportunities to learn not afforded her elsewhere. Her discovery and acquisition of a computerized “enabler” for the disabled gives her a “voice” for the first time, and we are thrilled along with her when she is finally able to tell her parents how much she loves them, and can show the rest of the world that she has a mind and a soul, just like everyone else.
In truth, there are ugly and painful scenes of rejection and cruelty in Draper’s novel that some reviewers apparently found either inappropriate for young readers or just too “negative,” including the ending. My response is that this book is not for very young readers, but for young teens—and their parents, as well—who like all of us need constant reminding of what life can be like for those less fortunate than themselves. Melody’s ability to handle much of what is thrown at her is downright inspiring, and helped to remind me that there are gracious ways of surviving the curveballs that life throws at us all. Draper’s writing is lovely–at times intimate and poetic, other times funny or thought-provoking–and I am grateful to her for sharing Melody with the rest of us.