Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine is a book for middle grade readers, grades 4-6.
It is the story of Caitlin, a fifth grade girl with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). Caitlin’s mom died several years ago, and as the book opens, her older brother Devon has recently been killed by a school shooter. The title comes from frequent references to “To Kill a Mockingbird” (a book I still haven’t read — I must do that).
The book details Caitlin’s journey through … grief? Although one of her AS symptoms is an inability to express emotions, so she doesn’t grieve as a typical person would. This causes even more sadness for her dad. Her AS also causes her to take many things literally and therefore to misunderstand things others say to her. She has very few friends.
The end of the book wraps up neatly (a bit too neatly, it seemed to me) with Caitlin finding closure. She goes through lots of thoughts about where to find closure, as if it’s a literal thing — another AS thing.
While the book was written well, it wasn’t much of a hit with me. Trying to hit two big issues in a single book (Asperger’s and a school shooting) seemed like a bit much to me. And while I know that Asperger’s presents differently in each person, it seemed to me that the author relied a bit too much on stereotypes (Caitlin flapped her hands, hated looking people in the eyes, etc). In the last chapter, Caitlin is exultant that she “gets it” — feels empathy for others. Sounds good, but in real life would this happen? Color me skeptical.
I may be being too harsh, since the target audience is kids about 10 years old. However, for a look at kids with handicaps, I far prefer a book like “Out of My Mind” by Sharon Draper.