by Sharon M. Draper
First sentence: “Words.”
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Melody is very, very smart. She’s known words and ideas and concepts since she was very little. She loves music, and can see colors when it plays. But, she has no way to tell anyone any of this. Melody has cerebral palsey, and while she can hear and understand, she just can’t communicate. Which is incredibly frustrating to her.
She’s got her parents and her neighbor, Mrs. V, on her side: encouraging her, teaching her, trying to communicate with her. The book recounts the ups and downs she’s experienced her whole life — from birth to the fifth grade — as she tries to figure out how to communicate. She can accept most of her limitations, but she needs a way to express the words in her head. It’s an intriguing process, frustrating and hopeful, as she goes through it all, trying to figure out where she fits in this world.
If this is ever a treatise of the hopelessness of doctors and school teachers (even if there is occasionally one that “gets” it), then I don’t know what is. But, it’s also a treatise on the determination of one girl (and her family) and what that can do. It is, in many ways, a “message” book: disabled people are NOT different than the rest of us, and just because they look or act different doesn’t mean they are not worth getting to know and understand.
But Draper presents this in such a way so that the book doesn’t feel like a heavy-handed message book. It’s heartfelt, and you end up both cheering for and crying with Melody as she recounts her experience. It’s wonderfully written, and yet simple enough to be accessible to middle graders. It’s a story worth telling, and definitely one worth reading.
(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)