‘Out of My Mind’ by Sharon Draper: Review by Christopher Williams

Arthur Schopenhauer once said for an individual to suffer was not to merely “understand” what the other was going through; rather to truly experience empathy is to take on the other’s suffering, to literally be crucified with another as opposed to simply carrying their cross, and  Draper’s novel Out of my Mind seems to focus on the latter in this powerful novel.  Following a fictitious autobiography of Melody, a young girl with a disability restraining her to the confines of a wheelchair and the inability to express any words whatsoever, the book seems to invoke some primal emotions that force one to no longer simply “read about” the character, but actually experience life with her.  There is much to say about whether Draper is justified in writing this kind of work; however I find that discussing topics of that nature take us away from the whole point of the book and I’m much more concerned about what the book has to say then whether or not she should have said it.

To begin with, I really appreciated the existential element to Draper’s narrative method.  The book did not have a rigid structure which it adhered to, and consequently it became quainter as the story revealed itself, quite akin to a blossoming rose.  This particular style would appear to be quite vexing insofar as it has no logical point that it could end per se.  Any ending would appear disappointing to a reader in its lack of a formal conclusion.  However, the open-ended style of the book is what gave it all its charm.  The lack of any sense of ethos from Melody’s contemporaries did not derail the whole book; rather following the main character through her struggles and sharing in her perseverance seemed to endow her with stoic nobility.  The inexcusable lack of justice experienced by her colleagues made me reminisce of the Aristotelian tragedy: one that is not viewed as to depress, but to reify certain virtues in the audience.  This is what I was speaking of earlier with the modes of compassion and primal sensations: as incomparable misfortunes strike Melody and her family, she seems more whimsical than pathetic.

Christopher Williams is an editor with Synchronized Chaos Magazine and may be reached at cwilli10@ashland.edu. Visit www.sharondraper.com for more information about the author.

The book delves into the nature of language, yet if you are looking for a Wittgenstein-level exegesis on philology than look elsewhere.  The book is much more subtle (and simpler) than a philosophical treatise.  Nonetheless, every word is carefully placed and holds very strong weight in respect to the entirety of the novel.  It provokes more of a respect for the complexity of language and asks one to ponder the significance of our communication much more than it would say whether or not these things that we communicate have any meaning.  Perhaps that is once more the existential nature of the book emerging more than anything else.  Certain events happen and certain words are said.  It’s not meant to be a metaphysical truth but something that just is.  In the case that this is true, then we can say the complexity of language is fully realized through its triviality.  Melody’s mute disposition seems to invoke a sense of yelling out with nobody to hear you.  It touches on the aspect of loneliness and helplessness that we seem to experience in this world.  Even some of the names involved are a reminder of this: consider the irony in a child who could not articulate a single sentence called Melody. This focus on words comes back to my ultimate point on empathy.  When we read of this girl’s suffering, it becomes more of an act of existing outside of ourselves than it does reading the character through our own eyes.  Draper allows us to reflect on that hopelessness and constant yearning for a mode of expression.

Ultimately when you read this book there are several ways you can take it.  You could focus solely on the accuracy of the book in respect to real-life situations and chip away at every flaw you believe that you have revealed; you could read the book and find it depressing; or you can really enjoy the book for what it is worth.  The book not only delivers a powerful message but it provokes a call to action.  It allows one to truly contemplate their very self and reflect on how they act as a person.  It carries a subtle quality of aesthetics that seem to reflect nature in a strong way.  Draper’s work is moving and captivating.  Perhaps it is the simplicity of the main character or the subtle flow of the novel that makes the reading so enjoyable.  Draper’s work is very charming, clever and challenges the reader to truly understand empathy.  The book is by no means depressing.  The determination and the grit seen throughout the book are more optimistic and hopeful than anything else.

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