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ckingbird
Author: Kathryn Erskine
Pages: 235
Publisher/Date: Philomel Books/2010
ISBN: 9780399252648
Age Levels: 9-12 and up

Book Review

I came to read this elegantly crafted, deeply moving book because a group of students cornered me one day, handed me a tattered, soda-stained copy, and told me I simply "MUST read it." Apparently, one had picked up the hardback at a garage sale and by dint of word of mouth, its popularity spread, like a juicy 7th grade rumor, throughout the entire hallway. "Two things," they warn me. "The dialogue is all in italics and some words are capitalized because the main character, who has Aspergers, thinks they are special." "Oh yeah," one adds as the group rushes out the door to their next class, "It’s about a middle school shooting—sort of." Well.

About ten minutes into the book I realized why they were so captivated. Mockingbird is one of those books—the kind that grabs you and won’t let go. Ten-year-old Caitlin Smith, the main character, is trying to navigate the world while dealing with Asperger syndrome. Although she has memorized the Facial Expressions chart in her school counselor’s office, navigating the world of human emotions is difficult in the best of times. Unfortunately, she is attempting to do this while coping with the recent death of her beloved older brother, Devon, who was killed in the aforementioned school shooting. Caitlin’s father, a widower, is trying to handle his son’s death and his daughter’s difficulties the best he can, but he feels inadequate to the task.

Books are a solace for Caitlin:

Sometimes I read the same books over and over and over. What’s great about books is that the stuff inside doesn’t change. People say you can’t judge a book by its cover but that’s not true because it says right on the cover what’s inside. And no matter how many times you read that book the words and pictures don’t change. You can open and close books a million times and they stay the same. They look the same. They say the same words. The charts and pictures are the same colors.

Books are not like people. Books are safe.
One day Caitlin hears the word closure in relation to the shooting and looks up the word in her dictionary. She reads: the state of experiencing an emotional conclusion to a difficult life event such as the death of a loved one. This, she decides, is exactly what she and her father need. Caitlin immediately seeks advice from her school counselor, Mrs. Brook. When Mrs. Brook is unable to offer a satisfying answer, Caitlyn becomes frustrated.
I start shaking my hands because the world is spinning and if I shake my hands faster than the rest of the world then the world’s spinning doesn’t seem so fast. Devon says it makes no sense but it makes sense to me.

[Closure] is something you have to find for yourself because everyone is different. We all have to find our own special way.

I thought I was the one who was special and everyone else was normal. I almost ask her what normal people do but I suppose that would not work for me anyway. That doesn’t help.

She touches my shaking hand and I pull away. Something will come to you Caitlin, she says. There’s a solution out there with your name written on it.

I look around her room for my name.

I’m sorry, she says, I don’t mean that your name will actually be written on anything. But you’ll think of something.

I give a big sigh and say, Fine. I will figure it out myself.
Ultimately Caitlin is the one who finds closure, who points the way to the path of healing—not only for the Smith family but for the school and larger community as well.

Kathryn Erskin does a brilliant job of allowing readers to experience vicariously the world of a young girl with Aspergers. Caitlin’s point of view and voice are spot on and authentic. It is difficult in a brief review to convey the beauty and power of this book. Perhaps the best compliment I could pay it is to relate what one of my at-risk students (who is not normally known for her verbal expression) said about it after listening to a read-aloud: "It was like I was inside Caitlin’s head, looking out through her eyes. The world looks different now somehow."

Reviewed by K.J. Wagner
©2011 Education Oasis http://www.educationoasis.com



About the Author

Kathryn Erskine, a former lawyer, lives in Virginia with her husband and two children. Her debut novel, Quaking, was a YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers.

Resources

You will find a discussion guide written by the author at Philomel Books.

Be sure to visit Kathryn Erskine's website for information about how she researched Mockingbird.