Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Middle Grade Review: Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine


Title: Mockingbird
Author: Kathryn Erskine
Publisher: Philomel, 2010. 224 pages
Source: Library

For Caitlin, an 11-year-old with Asperger's Syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder), the world is a confusing place. Her tendency to see everything in black and white, to take everything said literally, and an inability to read peoples' faces, make it hard for her to understand the world. And now her brother Devon, the only one who could explain things to her, is dead in a school shooting, and she and her father need to find a way to heal.

This was a moving book. I was drawn to it in part because there's a fair amount of Asperger's in my family, and it's interesting to see how it is depicted, though of course you can't take a story like this as a guide. But the first-person narration is wonderfully done, and Caitlin's difficulty in understanding the world feels very real (and the trouble idioms give her is a good reminder for anyone who deals with non-native English speakers, too).

I think in some ways what I appreciated most about the story was the way in which it showed us both that Caitlin was actually trying very hard to learn what she needs to know ("Your Manners," "Look the Person in the Eyes," etc.), often without fully understanding what it is she's being asked to do. And despite her efforts, we see equally clearly (even through her often bewildered reports) that she constantly frustrates the adults in her life. Though some of those adults do better than others at understanding her needs, I was glad that none were painted as dreadful people, just people with greater and lesser understandings of the narrator and her issues.

In the end, Caitlin does manage to find her way to "closure" for herself and her father, which is meant a good start on healing. And they bring their shattered community along with them when they find it.

Another good book for helping us understand the different people around us, as well as just a compelling story for it's own sake. I'd recommend it for children and adults alike, especially those who interact with people on the Spectrum.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed Mockingbird  from my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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