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Posts Tagged ‘cerebral palsy

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern is a slow-blooming flower. The initial events feel a little contrived. In addition, the relationship between Amy and Matthew takes almost too much time to develop. Yet the further into the story I got, the deeper affection I began to feel for the characters. I also appreciate that McGovern puts front and center characters with disabilities.

Friendships don’t happen simply because one is introduced to someone, sits next to someone in class, or even shares a table at lunch. Matthew remembers Amy from elementary school, but otherwise the two don’t really know one other. For that reason, Matthew certainly doesn’t intend to tell Amy what he thinks of the essay she shared in class, one in which she puts on a cheerful façade. After he does, however, Amy realizes that she needs someone like Matthew around to tell her the truth. She even develops a way for them to have regular contact. While this initial setup seems forced, subsequent encounters between Matthew and Amy feel more natural. I adored for example how they supported each other in the awkward task of making sales calls for the yearbook.

Matthew’s one moment of being honest with Amy leads to other shared revelations. He reveals that he struggles with obsessions. She confides that her plan for making friends during her high school haven’t been going too well. As their friendship develops, they discover they meet needs the other has. Matthew tries to help Amy deal with a helicopter mother, who has so involved herself in Amy’s life that she provides prospective friends with a list of all of Amy’s favorite things. Amy in turn pushes Matthew to confront his fears, meet with a therapist, and perhaps even consider medication for his disorder. It’s a sweet friendship that stumbles into a romance.

Actually, the romance doesn’t happen until about the midpoint of the novel, where Matthew takes Amy to the prom. By this point, I’d started to feel frustrated with Say What You Will. Although the signs for romance kept popping up, they weren’t ever being acted upon due to both characters. I began to feel as if watching a television show where season after season the two main stars clearly like one another, but are still kept annoying apart for the sake of show longevity. I felt relieved when McGovern finally allowed Matthew and Amy to acknowledge their feelings. From that point on, tension less on whether the two would get together and more on other issues such as jobs, parental interference, fake friends, and tenuous college plans. The relationship finally begins to feel complex, real, and dramatic.

Up until now everything in my review has focused on the love story behind Say What You Will. I’ve one last thing to say on that note. Despite the style sounding well-suited to middle school, McGovern’s novel is definitely for young adults due to their being a couple of sex scenes.

I’m not normally a fan of romances, but the uniqueness of Amy and Matthew make me a fan of Say What You Will. Amy has cerebral palsy. There are various levels of this disability and hers is severe enough that she needs support of a para, a walker, and a talking computer. As for Matthew, he has obsessive compulsive disorder, and its extreme enough to cause him to avoid social situations, gain attention of peers, and cause panic attacks. Together, the two learn to work around the limitations these disorders might cause, as well as find ways to overcome the challenges of life. Say What You Will is an honest portrayal of the universal experience of learning how to tell your date everything … including what matters most.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

SharonDraperAs a full-time writer, Sharon M. Draper loves what she does. She gets to write, travel, read, sleep late, go to the beach, or do nothing. No two days are ever alike. She feels blessed. When researching her life, I found it interesting to learn random things from Fireside Musings about her such as she loves Hagen Daaz ice-cream and can’t swim. If she were stranded on a desert island, according to Fireside Musings, she would bring building tools, a satellite telephone, and the complete works of Shakespeare! As for the coolest thing to most recently happen to her. Out of my Mind was on the New York Times Bestseller List! I reviewed it on August 6. Now I’m excited to post an interview with Sharon M. Draper, wherein she shares from her personal life as well as talks about Out of My Mind.


ALLISON: If you could share only one thing from your childhood with readers, what would that be?

SHARON: I was an avid reader as a child. I went to the library every single Saturday and checked out the maximum number of books, which was ten. I’d take them home and read them, then go back the next week and get ten more. I really did read most of the books in our small branch library. Seriously. All that reading probably got me started as a writer.

ALLISON: People tend to love or hate their adolescence. Which describes you?
I was an awkward adolescent. Because I was studious and I guess kinda nerdy, I was left out of the more socially mobile crowd, but that turned out to be a good thing. My best friends stayed true and loyal. We are still close friends even today. Adolescence can be survived!

ALLISON: A challenge from a student started you on the path of literary recognition. What was that challenge? What was “One Small Torch” about? And where might one find a copy?

SHARON: One of my students, a young man who did not like to write very much, challenged me to do some writing for a change, instead of just assigning it. So I entered a short story contest and I actually won! The story was called “One Small Torch”. You can read it today as chapter one of Forged by Fire.

ALLISON: You have received many honors for your writing work. What the first one you received? And what was that like? What was it like to visit the White House? And to represent the United States in Moscow?

SHARON: I’ve been blessed to receive many, many awards and honors. I am always a little awed, and always very grateful for the recognition of my writing. I guess the first really big one was to receive the New Talent Award by the American Library Association for Tears of a Tiger, my first book. The White House is awesome. The food there is unbelievably delicious, by the way. I’ve been to Moscow twice—it’s fascinating. I love to travel, but the best flight is always the one that brings me back home.

ALLISON: You have written stand-alone books and series. Which is your preference? How has the process differed?

SHARON: Some books need to be continued, and some say it all, and there is no need to further the story. Out of my Mind, for example, begins and ends with the same words, which literally brings it full circle. There is nothing left to say. But Panic, on the other hand, just begs to be continued. And so I shall.

ALLISON: According to some interviews, realistic fiction is your favorite genre to write. With fantasy being so popular among young people, have you ever been tempted to write it?

SHARON: Nope. I don’t think I’d be very good at it. I have no interest at all in even trying. I’ve always believed one should focus on what one loves, and the result will be wonderful.


ALLISON: How did you come up with the idea of Melody to have a Medi-Talker? Why did you wait until halfway through the book for this to happen?

SHARON: Many real children with disabilities use electronic talking devices. It is a wonderful help to those who have all their words and thoughts stuck inside. Modern technology is making these devices better every day.

ALLISON: Your daughter has a disability. Has she used the Medi-talker? Or other technology which has opened up her world?

SHARON: My daughter tells me to remind people that she is not Melody (even though she loves the attention.) But I do know lots of young people who do use such a device.

ALLISON: Several reviews have criticized the end as negative. Do you view it this way? Why didn’t you opt for a more positive end?

SHARON: The end is realistic. A child like Melody will not get “cured,” or change in any way. Her life will be difficult for the rest of her life. But as long as she can maintain her optimism and spirit, she can survive.

ALLISON: Some individuals with disabilities have made the statement that they would love if an author would write a book with characters who are like them and that would help others understand them. Your now having written a book about a girl who has a disability, what advice would you offer to other authors hoping to do the same?
SHARON: The world is full of characters and writing possibilities. But never write a story to “teach a moral” or to “make someone understand.” Write the story so the character soars and the reader can see the humanity of that character. The understanding will come effortlessly.

ALLISON: What are your favorite books which portray individuals with disabilities?

SHARON: I think Wonder is a really good book, but I’m not an expert on the topic. My next book will be about a different character is a different situation living in a different century. I’m not aware of other books about this time and place. I simply become an expert on what I’m doing at the time.

As a special education teacher, I’m always looking for new novels about students with disabilities. Unfortunately, I’ve read enough disappointing ones that I also feel anxious when I flip to the first page. Out of My Mind pleasantly surprised me. Despite some dull moments and an unexpected ending, the characterization of Melody and all those in her life felt so realistic that I quickly found myself applauding Sharon M. Draper’s contribution to the field of special needs literature.

Melody is the clear star of Out of My Mind. She has cerebral palsy, which can limit one’s ability to see, hear, move, think, and even learn. In Melody’s case, only her physical abilities are impacted. Even so, when you read of how Melody relies of others to help her eat, dress, and even use the bathroom, you might feel sorry for her. And you might think she lacks academic ability. Until Melody defies you with her attitude. First, Melody recognizes how babyish it looks that she needs to be fed. Moreover, she drools. Second, Melody makes clear how when she can’t communicate with someone, she resorts to a tantrum. In which she produces a LOT of noise. At the same time, Melody lets readers know that inside her mind she has a large vocabulary. She knows how to spell, define, and use thousands of words in meaningful sentences. Mentally, Melody is as smart as any of her regular classmates. When she finally gains the ability to verbally communicate through a Medi-Talker, Melody becomes an even stronger force to be reckoned with.

The reaction of Melody’s various caretakers and her classmates is mixed. Her parents and an adult babysitter named Mrs. V believe that Melody is smart. For that reason, her parents refuse the doctor’s advice to keep Melody at home or send her to a special school for the developmentally delayed. Mrs. V goes further, in that she doesn’t give Melody any sympathy. Melody’s toys aren’t straightway handed to her but are placed a few inches away from her, forcing Melody to turn over and to reach if she wanted her toys. And when Melody’s Medi-Talker allows her to compete on the grade-five Whiz Kids team, Mrs. V drills her on the biggest and hardest words to prepare her. How teachers react varies too, whether or not they are in the regular classroom or in the resource room. The best of the latter encourage learning with books on tape, while the worst disbelieve in their students by teaching them one letter per month. Students are even unsure of how to handle Melody, with the best complimenting Melody for her performance on tests while the worst laugh at anyone from the resource room. Having been a teacher in the elementary school system now for almost ten years, I can’t stress enough how accurately Draper has portrayed  teachers and students.

In fact, all of the above is so realistic that I hesitate to even mention any negatives. However, two features stood out enough I felt obliged. The ending most disappointed me. It relied too heavily on coincidences. Also, at times, certain passages dragged, which also lessened the overall positive experience for me. One prime example is when Melody took the quizzes and several pages were dedicated to listing questions and answers.

More and more, I’m finding that the best books are being written by those authors who have direct experience with individuals who have special needs. Draper is no exception. Her daughter has a disability. This no doubt enables her to recognize that individuals with special needs are complex, having more strengths and weaknesses. It also would make her very aware of how supportive or unsupportive caretakers can be. Last, Draper is savvy enough to know that school kids come with all kinds of personalities, some being mean and others being kind. I admire Out of My Mind and now wish to read the rest of Draper’s work.

Sharon M. Draper is a professional educator and accomplished writer. Her book, Out of my Mind, was a New York Times Bestselling novel for nine weeks. In addition, it has been selected to 32 state reading lists and won numerous state awards. Moreover, Out of my Mind was chosen as a 2011 IRA Teachers’ Choice Book and a 2011 IRA Young Adult’s Choice, along with garnering too many other accolades to note here. Out of Mind, which has also been translated into multiple languages, is my next featured book. I’ll return here tomorrow with a review. Save the date: August 6!


How did Draper come to the writing field? According to her biography, Draper’s literary recognition began when, as a challenge from one of her students, she entered and won first prize in a literary contest, for which she was awarded $5000 and the publication of her short story, “One Small Torch.” Draper has since published numerous poems, articles, and short stories in a variety of literary journals. Her first novel was published in 1994.

Writing realistic fiction for teens is Draper’s strength. Draper tells Fireside Musings that she likes creating characters that seem so real that the reader wants their phone number so they can call them and talk to them.

When Draper starts a new book, she writes down her story plan, which includes the basic plot idea and the problem that will drive the story, names of characters and their general physical descriptions, and the setting. Then she waits for the words to come.

If time from her teaching profession allows, Draper will get up at 4 AM and write all day. She’ll do this for a few weeks solid, which is enough time to get the core of a book done. Then she’ll go back, revise, and refine.

Draper rarely gets a mind block. Instead, Draper reveals to Fireside Musings her biggest problem is writing down all the words quickly enough. If she does get stuck, she shuts down the computer and goes shopping! It’s effective and fun therapy. 🙂

To Publishers Weekly, Draper indicates that in her fifteen years as an author much about writing has changed. First, Draper herself is a better writer. She credits this to good guidance, saying one doesn’t make it in this business without good editors and a lot of support from publishers. Second, the needs of young readers have also changed. They are impatient, so the cover, back copy, and flap have to grab them. Page one also has to grab them. They won’t read ten chapters to get to the good part, because there are other things to do and many outside interruptions.

One thing, however, has stayed constant. There are issues, Draper believes, that young people need and want to talk about. Unfortunately, a lot of times, the adults in their lives don’t.


SharonDraper_BookDraper has a daughter who is disabled and says in her Intro, Summary, and General Questions that she’s often wondered about what’s really going on in the mind of a person who cannot share their thoughts. So she created Melody, not as a portrait of her own daughter, but as a character who is truly her own person. Draper was also fiercely adamant that nobody feel sorry for Melody. She tried to make her unforgettable and hoped that readers would cheer for her.

While the story of Melody is fictional, it is based on the reality of thousands of intelligent children and adults who are trapped inside uncooperative bodies. To write Out of Mind, Draper read dozens of books on disabilities, worked with handicapped children at a local summer camp, and “spent untold hours trying to unlock the secrets hidden” in her own daughter’s mind.

Draper would like Melody to be a tribute to all the parents of disabled kids who struggle, to all those children who are misunderstood, to all those caregivers who help every step of the way. However, she also wrote Out of Mind for all those people who look away, pretend they don’t see, or don’t know what to say when they encounter someone who is different.


From reading her biography, one quickly learns that Sharon Draper is a person who works hard and is well-recognized for what she does. As a teacher, numerous awards have been bestowed to her, both at the state and national level. She is a Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award winner. Ohio has awarded her for being an outstanding high school language arts teacher. Nationally, she has won the National Teacher of the Year.

As an author, Draper was even the Duncanson Artist-in-Residence for the Taft Museum. She is also a five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Literary Awards, along with being a New York Times bestselling author. In 2011, Draper also received the Lifetime Achievement Award for contributions to the field of adolescent literature by The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English.

That’s not all! Draper’s book Copper Sun was selected as the United States novel for the international reading project, Reading Across Continents. Students from various continents across the world are reading Copper Sun and sharing ideas. Draper was also chosen as one of only four authors in the country to speak at the National Book Festival Gala in Washington, D.C, and to represent the United States in Moscow at their Book Festival. She has also been honored at the White House six times.


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