Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine tackles Asperger’s and the aftermath of a school shooting. Difficult topics – and when my 5th grade daughter came home with the book, I admit I was both intrigued and anxious by the subject matter. I trust her teacher implicitly; still, I thought it best I read the book as well, to be ready for any questions or concerns.
My fear was unfounded – Mockingbird delves into the world and mind of Caitlin, a10 year old girl dealing both with Asperger’s and the death of her beloved brother, Devon, killed at school by another student. Everything used to be so orderly – Caitlin is a gifted artist who sees things in black and white – and before, if she were ever unsure, she would seek out Devon for answers and guidance. Now, she and her father are floundering.
Mockingbird is told entirely from Caitlin’s point of view, and through her eyes, we see, and feel, her confusion and her father’s grief, and we watch as she stumbles through the social hell of school. Everything is different now, but with the help of a caring counselor at her school, she begins to talk about her loss and works on making new friends. Sadly, it’s not always easy for Caitlin, and yet, in so many ways, she is brighter than the rest of those trying to help her, and she understands that no one – not herself, her father, or even the community, can move on from this tragedy until they have closure.
Heady themes, indeed, but Caitlin maintains an almost matter-of-fact detailing of the after affects of the school shooting – and the author successfully maneuvers readers through the grieving process without gratuitous sadness or terror, not an easy task in a world where 10 year olds must now practice lock-down drills on a monthly basis. In fact, we learn very little about the shooting; there is no description of the actual event. Still, we understand how it has irrevocably changed every member of the community and we can see how the tragedy has altered Caitlin’s once stable life.
It’s hard enough figuring out the social mores of the playground when you are ten, but add in Asperger’s, and our hearts break for Caitlin as we see her navigating through this process. Yet, while, there is a sadness, of course, watching Caitlin grow and learn and mature through her grieving – and even helping others around her learn how to grieve – is inspiring. I couldn’t help but cheer for this young girl as she tries to learn the meaning of friendship and finds the determination to help her father and another grieving child.
Mockingbird is recommended for ages 10 and up; I’m not sure every 10 year old can handle the subject. But it is an important book, with important lessons. After all, we need to constantly remind our young people that social and behavioral differences are not to be ridiculed but celebrated. And we need to constantly remind our young people that even in the face of tragedy, we can find good. Mockingbird accomplishes both.
Written by Kathryn Erskine
Published by Puffin
Reviewed by Jenny Tananbaum