49 pages 1 hour read

Sharon M. Draper

Out of My Heart

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2021

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Sharon M. Draper’s bestseller Out of My Heart (2021) returns to the story of Melody Brooks, a precocious and artistic 12-year-old with cerebral palsy. The story follows Draper’s 2013 novel Out of My Mind. Melody uses a wheelchair and communicates via her Medi-Talker, a computer device. Melody relates her experiences attending a one-week summer camp designed for kids with unique needs. The camp challenges Melody, now on her own far from home and her loving family. Melody participates in a wide range of camp activities like zip-lining, swimming, and horseback riding. Each new challenge enhances her perception of herself and what she can accomplish when she sets her mind to it. In the process, Melody makes new friends, develops her first crush, and by the end of the week, feels part of a group for the first time in her life.

In sharing her experiences, Melody defies her sense of her own limitations. The novel illustrates Melody’s growth as she comes to a broader perception of her own capabilities each day at camp. In the process, Melody learns important lessons about defying the narrow-minded stereotypes others have of neurodivergent individuals. Ultimately, she comes to understand the value of friendship, something her experiences with her peers in her school have not shown her. Draper, a veteran writer with more than 30 titles, won the 2015 Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association, a lifetime achievement award that recognizes a writer’s body of work that contributes to teen fiction. A career educator who taught high school English for more than 25 years, Draper was named the National Teacher of the Year in 1997.

This study guide references the 2021 hardcover Atheneum edition.

Plot Summary

Summer is approaching and Melody Brooks, now finishing sixth grade, listens to her classmates as they talk excitedly about plans to attend different summer camps. They talk around and above her, but no one speaks to Melody about her plans, and she has come to expect that. Diagnosed as an infant with spastic bilateral quadriplegia, or cerebral palsy, Melody uses a wheelchair. She experiences unpredictable leg twitches and is nonspeaking. She relies on a Medi-Talker, a computer that translates her typing into a kind of gentle female voice whom she names Elvira, to communicate with others. Melody likes the idea of summer camp, but she wonders what camp would work with her disability. With the help of a school librarian, Melody finds Camp Green Glades, a summer camp within driving distance that specializes in kids with unique needs. After convincing her parents, particularly her mother, that she can handle camp and that she is ready to be on her own, a spot becomes available at Green Glades and Melody is accepted. When the day to head to camp arrives, Melody is excited but nervous—she has never been away from home and does not know what to expect.

When she arrives, Melody meets the counselor assigned to her for the week, Trinity, who smells like jasmine and wears flashy makeup that Melody adores. Trinity reassures Melody that every camper is nervous when they first arrive. Melody begins to feel more at home as she meets her three cabin mates, Karyn, Athena, and Jocelyn. They each share stories about feeling different, their experiences handling their disabilities, and their feelings of often being left out of school and family activities or looked down upon by strangers in public.

Over the next three days, Melody rises to the challenge of each new camp activity. With Trinity’s help, she soars across a zipline. Although initially scared of the possibility of drowning, Melody comes to love splashing about in the camp’s heated pool. She responds enthusiastically to the opportunity to paint in art class. But she most enjoys the nightly campfire where the campers exchange jokes, tell scary stories, eat s’mores, and break into songs. One afternoon, impulsively, Melody and her cabin mates sneak out and wander about the campgrounds. They get into trouble and must promise never to break camp rules again, and their parents are notified about the infraction. Instead of feeling chastised, Melody loves the adrenaline rush of independence and the deeper thrill of having friends.

During lunch, Melody sees a cute boy with a gorgeous smile. He uses a walker but moves with skill. She is immediately intrigued by the boy, whose name, she learns, is Noah Abercrombie. Over the next few days, Melody and Noah get to know one another and share stories and laugh together. Melody is not entirely sure what she is feeling, but she thinks about Noah as she tries to fall asleep in her cabin and looks for Noah every chance she can.

As the week draws to a close, Melody faces her most daunting challenge: riding a horse. With the patient help of Trinity, however, Melody mounts the horse and feels the thrill of riding. When trying to get off the horse, Melody accidentally startles it when her legs spasm. She must overcome her panic and work to regain control of the horse, which she does successfully. As part of a last day convocation, each camper is given a chance to karaoke to their favorite song. Melody selects “Wings” by Little Mix, a sweeping aspirational song that celebrates how far a person can fly on their own wings. At the farewell dance on the last night of camp, Melody and Noah dance together. The next day, Melody wins the camp’s courage award at the farewell graduation ceremony. As the campers all reluctantly head home, they each promise to stay in touch and to return next summer.

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