Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (2010)

Books are not like people. Books are safe.
The librarian won’t let you take the Physicians’ Desk Reference home even if you hide it in the middle of thirty-two books. She says you have to leave it in the reference section so others might enjoy it. I know I willenjoy it. But she says that is not the point. She never does tell me what the point is but Devon says sometimes you just have to do what a teacher or librarian says even if you think it’s stupid. Also, he says you shouldn’t tell them out loud that you think it’s stupid. That’s a secret that stays in your head only (p 34).

mockingOf all the children’s and YA books I have read that feature or include children who are differently abled, this is the first that moved me to tears. Erskine has crafted a remarkable novel, so fine in it’s delivery that I forgot myself at times and suffered and struggled along with her characters.

Caitlin has Aspergers. Her older brother, Devon, had always explained the world to Caitlin in terms she could understand. But now Devon is dead, shot through the chest during a school shooting by a classmate.

Her mother died several years ago. Her father is lost in his grief. But when Caitlin read the definition of Closure, she believes she has found a way to fix things.

There are many things I love about this book: the consistency of its unique voice, the pacing, and the characters who are all perfectly portrayed whether the appear briefly or often.

Some books irk me when the writer relies heavily on a previously written work of fiction (When You Reach Me for example). While this book often refers to the movie adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, it doesn’t phase me in the least. I just feel the need to handle the book with more delicacy now that I’ve read and loved it.

The one aspect I do question is the perceived need to have differently-abled people adapt to ‘our’ world, to behave as society would like them to behave. It seems as though this only succeeds in making the person uncomfortable so ‘normal’ people don’t feel uncomfortable.

I’m not questioning the need to help people with disabilities perform to the best of their abilities (as Mrs. Brook is doing by helping Caitlin understand empathy) but rather the assumption that their natural and comforting impulses should be stifled so society doesn’t feel awkward. I have to think on this more…

Definitely a strong piece of literature that deserves a place on your mock Newbery lists.

Mockingbird received a starred review in Kirkus.


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