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The story is narrated by a young girl who is almost eleven years old and lives with her father and mother. She develops a strong understanding of language very early on in life and remembers the words to nearly all the songs her parents ever sang and stories they ever told her. Even though her head is almost overflowing with thoughts, she has never spoken a word.
This chapter more fully introduces Melody Brooks, a young girl living with a crippling medical disorder. Due to her illness, she is unable to walk or talk, and she can barely move her arms. On occasion, her limbs seem to act with a mind of their own and flail about even if she does not want them to. She has a pink wheelchair, which she uses to get around, though the fact that it’s pink doesn’t add much in her opinion. Melody has an incredible memory and can recall specific events even from when she was only a baby. She is a quick learner, so she picked up the meaning behind sounds and language very early on. Keeping on theme with her name, Melody enjoys listening to music. She has a knack for memorizing lyrics and rhythm. She associates different types of music with various colors and smells. Melody prefers country music, which makes her think of sweet and tangy lemons. She is frustrated by the fact that other people in the world can use words with no effort, but she is unable to summon any despite the countless words that are constantly bouncing around in her mind.
As Melody grew up she started to realize bit by bit what her physical limitations were. Her mind felt fully capable and her memory was fantastic, but she was frustrated at her inability to do simple things by herself, like hold onto her stuffed animal cat. Melody would frequently tip over onto the floor or fall off the couch because she had no sense of balance. Her parents would attempt to prop her up with pillows to keep her steady, but she often fell anyway. She had just enough control in her fist and thumbs to work the remote-control clicker attached to her wheelchair.
Melody likes that her father talks to her as if she were a grownup, which he did even when she was a little girl. She had such a highly functioning brain even back then that she understood much of what he said to her. When she was younger, her father always read to her before she went to bed, and she memorized every single word to every story. Melody believes that she has a photographic memory since she can recall almost everything she encounters in extreme detail. Nobody else realizes quite how smart Melody really is, and since she has no way of telling them, it sometimes drives her crazy. Occasionally, Melody experiences what she likes to call “tornado explosions.” All her frustrations boil to the surface and her body lashes out. Her arms and legs jerk around, she screams, and she has difficulty breathing. She doesn’t like acting that way but it’s something beyond her control.
Melody’s narration in the first chapter introduces one of the central conflicts in the novel: Melody is a gifted person who loves words, but her disability prevents her from speaking. Melody’s struggle to communicate her thoughts and feelings will be a constant source of inner conflict in the novel, and her poetic language at the novel’s opening brings this conflict into sharp relief. She compares words to snow because snow swirls around and piles up in drifts, just like the words in her head. She describes her parents as “blanketing” her in conversation, which signifies warmth and support but also suffocation and smothering. This skillful manipulation of words shows just how cruel it is that she cannot speak them, raising the stakes of the central conflict. It also reveals Melody to be a nuanced thinker who has a complete and complex understanding of her situation. While the narration in this chapter establishes Melody’s conflict with words, it also signals that Melody, intelligent and aware, will be able to overcome difficult challenges.
The way Melody describes herself in these early chapters creates the impression of a spirited, curious, intelligent girl. She describes how she appears to others in sharp detail, illustrating her awareness that most people focus on her physical traits instead of noticing her unseen positive qualities. Her use of the third person, saying “she” and “her” instead of “I” and “me,” subtly demonstrates the contrast between her own experience of herself and the body that others encounter. Melody describes the vast difference between her inner world and the tiny, physically weak person who kicks and drools. Melody returns to the first person to describe her smile, her dimples, and her earrings, qualities that make Melody her unique self. Although she notes that many people do not look past their first impressions of her appearance, Melody emphasizes the richness and value of her inner life with long passages describing her keen sense of hearing and her photographic memory. Melody wants to be seen as intelligent and capable, not as a person who can’t control her body.
Melody’s reaction to the toy blocks she sees while shopping with her mother highlights her frustration at her inability to express her thoughts to others. Melody’s recognition of the blocks as dangerous shows a sophisticated level of recall and understanding, but Melody is unable to communicate the danger to her mother. Although the author depicts Melody’s mother as attentive to her daughter’s needs, even she cannot understand Melody’s true meaning. This episode illustrates how deeply frustrating it is for Melody to be confined within a body that doesn’t function as she wants it to. Not only does her mother fail to understand her, but she believes that Melody is having a tantrum. While a typical child might have had a tantrum over wanting a toy her mother had refused her, Melody’s “tornado explosion” results not from a childish desire for a toy but from an unusually mature desire to protect others from danger. It is ironic that Melody’s intelligence and maturity are the impetus of what others assume to be an immature meltdown, and her disability prevents her from proving them wrong.