Author: Kathryn Erskine
Publisher: Philomel Books, 2010
Where I got it: I requested it from the library.
As someone who has Asperger's, 10-year-old Caitlin has trouble understanding why people act a certain way and how to react to them in turn. She would always turn to her older brother Devon to explain things and situations for her, but Devon dies in a tragedy that rocks their entire community. So not only is Caitlin left without her most trusted friend and big brother, she must learn how to deal with the way her father is now acting, the way others treat her in school, learning empathy, and most important of all, getting to Closure.
If you haven't heard of this book yet, just to tell you, it won the National Book Award for young people's literature. And let me tell you, it certainly deserved it. Through Erskine's book we see the world through Caitlin's eyes and mind. She doesn't Get It (as she would say) most of the time, as she can't understand certain emotions or reactions. She has to work really hard to see how another person is feeling and how to make them feel better, instead of worse. It's very illuminating to see how a person with Asperger's might view the world, and gives us a tool to understand them better and the way they see things better.
Despite her lack of understanding others, Caitlin is remarkably intelligent and an incredible artist. Throughout the book, Erskine uses Caitlin's artistic talents as a device—her refusal to use color goes hand in hand with the way she likes to see the world. Black and white are much easier to deal with than colors that can run together and blur. But as she begins to learn empathy and friendship, as she begins to find the ever-illusive Closure, Caitlin begins to see that color might be useful.
What really struck me about this novel was the rawness and realness of everything. Erskine does not really censor much, but not in an inappropriate way. What I mean is, Caitlin just reports things as she sees them, bluntly and accurately—this is especially true when she describe her father's violent reaction when he hears the news of his son's death and his subsequent grieving (mostly detachment, refusal to speak of Devon, and lots of crying), and how she herself is dealing with the loss of the only person who seemed to understand how to talk to her. We also see things that Caitlin misses. She has incredible skills of observation, and doesn't shy away from telling us everything—actions and gestures that she doesn't understand are not lost on us, and I felt it all the more.
We also see the way a tragedy can affect everyone involved, even those who are related to the ones who caused it. It's heartbreaking, but the quest for Closure is a bold and valiant one that Caitlin tries to share with the entire community.
The mockingbird title comes from Devon and Caitlin's shared love for the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. Throughout, Caitlin keeps returning to this, to her nickname Scout that Devon gave her, and to all of their likeness to the three main characters in the film and book (Jem, Scout and Atticus). In the end, Devon is the symbolic mockingbird—dead despite his innocence, but living on in the memory of his family and of his community.
Incredibly moving and poignant (I use that word not as a cliche; I mean it with all my heart), Caitlin shows us a world that we mostly try to ignore. She shows us ways to deal with grief, both good and bad, but all real; after death and tragedy, we must find our way to Closure, and to living again.