Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Written by: Katheryn Erskine
Recommended Ages: 9 and up
Mockingbird was published about a month ago and I think it may be a contender for some future awards. It's a poignant story with complex, well-developed characters whom you immediately want to get to know better. Although, you should be forewarned, the background story about a horrific school shooting may be difficult for some kids.
Caitlin is a fifth-grader who lives alone with her dad. Her beloved brother, Devon, was recently killed in a tragic middle-school shooting, and she and her dad are barely coping in the aftermath. Caitlin also has Asperger's syndrome. It is through this lens that we hear her story of how this small family deals with life after "The Day Our Life Fell Apart," and ultimately gets some closure.
When we first meet Caitlin, she has no friends, although she has a very good relationship with the school counselor, Mrs. Brooke. Mrs. Brooke is trying to help Caitlin learn to read other people's emotions, as well as make friends. Through her, she makes her first friend in Michael, a first-grader. Caitlin's voice is loud and clear throughout the book, and we watch as she struggles to try and understand what people really mean, as she often takes what they say at face value. When she hears someone talk about the need for closure on the shooting, she looks up closure in the dictionary ("the state of an emotional conclusion to a difficult life event such as the death of a loved one"), and is determined to find closure for her and her dad. The book follows Caitlin in this quest, which is a very literal one at first, but one that ultimately succeeds on different levels in the end.
I think that kids will relate to Caitlin. They'll want her to succeed, even though in the beginning they may not understand her. She is different, and they'll see that other kids perceive her as "weird," since she does things like suck her sleeve when she's nervous. But they'll also come to love her personality and understand that everyone has special talents, even if they are not always evident at first.
I'm not going to give away anything else about Mockingbird, although I realize I have left out so many wonderful things about the book. Caitlin, her dad, Mrs. Brooke, her first friend Michael and her brother Devon are memorable characters that you feel like you know well by the end of the book. Life, death and the long and painful road to healing are addressed in heartwarming, difficult and sometimes very funny ways. I highly recommend Mockingbird; it stays with you long after you read the last sentence.