Melody Brooks is bright a ten-year old with a photographic memory who loves country music, books on tape, and her family. Melody also loves words and language, but she’s unable to speak. She has cerebral palsy, which for her means that her body is very stiff, and she has difficulty controlling it. Most of the novel takes place during Melody’s fifth grade school year, but she also gives a history of her life, and what it has been like to grow up with her disability.
Out of My Mind begins when Melody is a baby, and her Mom and Dad notice she can’t hold toys on her own, or sit up without falling over. But while Melody’s body isn’t developing the way it was supposed to, her mind is growing quickly. Even though she can’t respond to her parents, she understands them and she is sometimes frustrated when they can’t understand her. Still, Melody’s family and her next-door neighbor, Mrs. V, believe she is bright, and when Melody is five her mother enrolls her at Spaulding Street Elementary School. Melody is placed in a “special learning community” with other children who have disabilities. The students have remained in the same classroom (room H-5) for the past five years, and every year a new teacher rotates in. Some of these teachers, like Mrs. Tracy who teaches second grade, care about the students in H-5 and make sure they are learning. Others, like Mrs. Billups, take the job because they think it will be easy, and don’t seem to understand that the children in H-5 are students who want to learn.
When she enters the fifth grade, Melody and some of her classmates from room H-5 are allowed to take classes with the rest of the fifth graders. Although a few students make fun of the students with disabilities, Melody does make one friend, a girl named Rose who, like Melody, is also smart and hardworking. During the fall, as she is integrating into her classes, Melody receives a personal Medi-Talker, a computer that can speak for her. This suddenly allows her to communicate with the world in a brand new way, giving her access to tens of thousands of words and phrases instead of a few dozen, and allowing her to participate in class for the first time. The Medi-Talker also allows Melody to take tests without assistance, and with it she gets a perfect score on the practice test for her school’s Whiz Kids academic team. Unfortunately, even though Melody deserves her score, her fellow students and her teacher, Mr. Dimming, are suspicious of her results. Melody goes home upset at being laughed at and underestimated, but Mrs. V convinces her to try even harder in school to prove her intelligence. Melody studies for weeks and earns a spot on the Whiz Kids team, leading them to victory at the Southwest Ohio Regional Competition.
However, in spite of proving herself a valuable member of the team, Melody never feels truly accepted. The day that the team and Melody are supposed to fly to Washington D.C. for the national competition, Mr. Dimming and all the other students get to the airport early and have breakfast without her. When a snowstorm cancels the team’s flight, everyone who is already at the airport takes an earlier plane, and they collectively decide not to call Melody, leaving her behind. Melody is devastated by this betrayal, but insists on going to school the next day, even though she is upset. Sitting in the car, Melody sees her little sister, Penny run out behind the wheels of the van. Melody tries to warn her mother not to back up, but she doesn’t have her Medi-Talker, and is unable to explain why she’s so agitated. Melody’s mother, unable to understand Melody, ignores her and accidentally hits Penny with the car. Penny is rushed to the hospital. She breaks her leg but she survives, and Melody returns to school where she confronts her teammates. They admit that they left her behind on purpose and they apologize, giving her their ninth-place trophy. Melody doesn’t want it and she accidentally breaks it, then she leaves the classroom laughing. Melody gains a new respect for the other children in her learning community, and a better sense of what is most important to her — the wellbeing of her family, and the health of those who genuinely care about her. She ends the novel the same way she begins it, writing an autobiography for her language arts class about her love of language and words.