When you look at someone in a wheelchair, someone who cannot talk, someone who cannot control their bodily functions, a narrative comes to mind. “This person is disabled.” “This person is retarded.” “This person will never really be a person.” It’s an old idea, that the body is a mirror of the mind. A useless body must mean a useless mind.
Because so many of these people are helpless, unable to speak or move or eat independently, it is hard for them to challenge that narrative. It is hard for them to express themselves. They are trapped in their own heads, with all their knowledge and personality.
No person contains only a single story. The maid spends her free time reading astronomy textbooks. The murderer on death row is also a loving father. The lady at the tupperware party is a world-famous psychiatrist. It is hard to accept this about the people around us, and harder to process it, so most people avoid it if possible. But the people I mentioned above each have a voice of their own with which to tell their stories. People with disabilities like the protagonist of “Out of My Mind” are voiceless.
From the very beginning, Sharon Draper sets out to tell a story that tears apart of the idea of a “single story.” Her first-person narrator loves words, but has never spoken a word in her life. She can remember a thousand facts, but cannot say any of them without the help of a computer.
Melody is a powerful, brilliant, delightful character. From the earliest part of her life, people try to fit her into a box. They try to confine her to a single story, without paying attention to all the other stories that might be true. They see her, and they think “stupid,” no matter how smart she is.
And Melody must learn what so many people learn: that a happy life is largely about how you respond to it. You cannot choose what people do to you, and often you cannot change what people think of you. But you can, to a certain extent, choose how you respond to it. And to laugh is always better than to cry.