MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine is a story about Caitlyn, a girl with Aspergers who has just suffered the loss her brother. This story delivers an awesome protagonist, especially for Autistic Spectrum readers. It’s my first library read in a while and I’m feeling very warm and appreciative about our lovely local library for having lots of great books on the shelves…

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Books are not like people. Books are safe.

Caitlyn’s brother, Devon, meant everything to her. He was the one who explained the world; he told her when she was supposed to Look At The Person and when it was not appropriate to flap her hands or suck her shirt sleeve—it was him who gave her the information she needed to Get It. But now he’s gone and she’s going to have to try and Get It all by herself… Caitlyn takes comfort in the safety of a book; a dictionary which she often turns to in the hope that it will help her to understand the world.

What is so good about this story, among all the other important things it covers, is Caitlyn’s voice. Hers is a really special first-person narrative because when you are in her head you feel that you are becoming a touch more enlightened with every bit of information she gives. I especially liked Caitlyn’s description of the woman on Fox Five News,

…who talks so fast and so loud you can’t hear what she’s saying.

And I liked recognising a few of the traits in the Aspies I have in my world; such as the ‘trouble’ she has with directions and her confusion as to why she would want to share feelings with anyone, being as ‘I don’t have any of those.’ And then there’s her hatred of recess, because of all the

Sharp screaming and its too bright and people’s elbows are all pointy and dangerous and its hard to breathe and my stomach always feels really sick.

She often gets a ‘recess’ feeling during difficult moments in the story and Erskine’s descriptions are so brilliant I got that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach too.

Following what Caitlyn refers to as The Day Our Life Fell Apart, her observations of her father were some of the most touching passages in the book; the details of his swallowing and coughing when he’s trying not to cry, when his fingers grip the backs of his hands hard, when he stops eating… When he

…gets up slowly like he is a very old toy running out of battery.

MOCKINGBIRD is a pretty incredible children’s novel that won the National Book Awards in 2010. Erskine seems to really know her stuff with regards to Aspergers and her skillful storytelling reminded me of Anne Fine. Covering tricky topics and a condition that everyone ought to be striving to understand, Erskine writes with a great deal of finesse, which incidentally becomes one of Caitlin’s favourite words in the story;

I’m surprised that I’m only learning this word now. The word is all about me! It’s what I’m trying to do every day to Deal With this difficult situation called life.

Despite dealing with such a traumatic subject, the message of this book is ultimately hopeful, as the characters work to understand what is going on in each other’s heads and they all get a little closer to finding that elusive thing called Closure.

Other interesting things

MOCKINGBIRD is a somber, touching read and Caitlyn’s world is heartbreaking at times, but I felt fortunate to be able to Get It more through this story. I think this is a ten-plus read; it inspires empathy, education and provides a great character for all children and especially Autistic and Aspergers readers.