I downloaded Mockingbird from the library the other day, not really realizing that it was a YA book – actually it’s a middle grade book – until I was in to it, and by then, I was in to it, and couldn’t put it down. In fact, I finished it within a couple of days, even sneaking in a few minutes here and there at work. It grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let go.
It also broke my heart.
Ten year old Caitlin is in the fifth grade. Her mother died when she was young, and her older brother Devon, who was her guide to the world, was killed in a school shooting last year, so now she only has her father, a widower who is having trouble seeing through his own veil of grief. Caitlin also has Asperger’s, and over the course of the novel, we hear Caitlin’s own voice explaining how she and her father are coping with moving forward and moving on.
But moving forward from Devon’s death isn’t the only challenge in Caitlin’s life. She still needs to navigate recess and lunchtime and school and group projects. She has a very patient school counselor in the form of Mrs. Brook, who is helping her to adjust to life without Devon as well as prepare for the future. And in an interesting twist, Caitlin befriends a first grader named Michael who is the son of a teacher who was killed in the same shooting as Devon.
With Caitlin as the narrator, the reader is plunged headfirst in to her world, and for the first time, I felt like I maybe understood a tiny bit what it must be like to go through life, not just as a scared and confused kid, but as a scared and confused kid who also doesn’t have all the “normal” tools available to her. From the outside, some of Caitlin’s reactions and statements may look and sound bizarre, but from her perspective, they all made total and complete sense. And that’s what elevates this book for me: Erskine so deftly pulls the reader in to Caitlin’s world that she isn’t “weird” or “different”. What she is is a kid who is trying to cope, in a very honest way, with all the things that life is throwing at her. And isn’t that what we’re all trying to do, too?
It would be easy to lump this book in with the latest crop of Asperger’s books. It seems like they’re popping up all over the place, but this is more than just another “aspie book”. Some of the criticisms I read indicated that maybe there was too much going on, and there definitely is a lot happening: Asperger’s, being “on the spectrum”, school shootings, bullying, parental death, sibling death, coming of age, and it’s also got some lovely homages to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. But kids today do have a lot going on – we have only to turn on the news or look online to see that – so why shouldn’t their books reflect that?
I don’t think I’m going to like it at all. I think it’s going to hurt. But after the hurt I think maybe something good and strong and beautiful will come out of it.
More reviews found here.