Paperback, 224 pages
Published January 1st 2012 by Usborne Publishing Ltd.
Description via Goodreads:
11-year-old Caitlin has Asperger’s syndrome, and has always had her older brother, Devon, to explain the confusing things around her. But when Devon is killed in a tragic school shooting, Caitlin has to try and make sense of the world without him. With her dad spending most of his time crying in the shower, and her life at school becoming increasingly difficult, it doesn’t seem like things will ever get better again.
A heart-warming story of loss and recovery that won the American National Book Award 2010 – one of the most moving books you’ll ever read.
My thanks go to Usborne for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review
Mockingbird is a moving novel by Kathy Erskine in which she tries to send a very important message 'in hopes that we may all understand each other better'. This book was written after the Virginia Tech school shootings, which is of course a very emotive subject. Erskine handled the portrayal of the aftermath of this well.
I was drawn it from the very first page of Mockingbird by the unique writing style and distinct voice of our eleven year old narrator, Caitlin, who has Aspergers. We are thrown into the highly emotional setting from the start when we discover that Caitlin's brother, Devon, was a victim of a school shooting. The whole story is about 'Getting It' (finding understanding), finding closure and acceptance.
It is really interesting to see the world from Caitlin's perspective. She has quite basic language but the thought behind her words makes them very intense. For the most part, her actions make her appear younger than her age, but her thoughts could be seen as complex. There is some light humour throughout the book even though the protagonist isn't intentionally, or aware that she is, amusing - this just makes the story all that more poignant. Caitlin is often very literal in her thoughts and speech and this shows how things are interpreted differently by different people. Even though Caitlin was different, it's easy to empathise with her.
Reading about Caitlin trying to make friends with others and her relationships in general were intriguing and her search to be able to empathise with other was touching. I found reading about her relationship with Michael, a younger boy whose mother was killed during the shooting, to be emotive and very intense but also very natural. Both Michael and Caitlin are young and their childishness, juxtaposed by the harsh issue of death and loss was very effective. I also found the difficult relationship between Caitlin and Josh, a brother of the shooter, to be very stirring. There was more miscommunication when people were calling him 'evil' for simply being related to the shooter.
Her relationship with her counsellor and future art teacher were fantastic. However, I found one scene in particular, in which Mr Mason, a teacher, makes an offensive remark about autistic children to be quite crushing, I really felt emotion on behalf of Caitlin.
The title, Mockingbird, is a direct reference to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. When Devon was still alive, he used to call Caitlin Scout as when she says something, it makes people think. The parallels between the Caitlin and Scout's family were well linked. A lot of this story revolves around Caitlin and her father working together to complete building a chest for Devon's Eagle-Scout project, in an attempt to give them both closure. This is a very sentimental idea and it is heartwarming to read about. The relationship between Caitlin and her father is poignant and impressive and when the chest is completed, there was quite an overwhelming feeling.
The ending of this book was pleasant, but of course it wasn't perfect - it shouldn't and possibly couldn't be perfect. Not everyone is best friends or happy, but there is certainly room left for this to be a possibility. There's a good conclusion which leaves the story able to naturally progress.
Despite everything that happened, the community spirit is still there.
This was a fantastic and sometimes heart wrenching book that I would certainly recommend. I anticipate reading more of Erskine's work.