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Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

This is Week 12 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. To see all of the reviews, click here.

In Kathryn Erskine's "Mockingbird," Caitlin’s world is black and white, and she likes it that way, whether it’s her view of life or her meticulous monotone drawings. Since The Day Our Life Fell Apart when her brother Devon was killed in a school shooting, she and her widowed father keep to simple routines. This is important to kids like Caitlin, a fifth grader with Asperger’s Syndrome. Clear boundaries make it easier to cope, especially when she’s trying hard to follow her counselor’s advice to Look At The Person and Mind Your Manners. 

As I followed Caitlin through her days at school – meeting with the school counselor when she has a TRM (Tantrum Rage Meltdown), trying dutifully to make friends even though she prefers to be a “team of one” – I began to see the world as Caitlin does. She may be socially inept and literal-minded, but she also has a startling gift for humor and truth-telling. 
 
Devon himself is still vividly present in Caitlin’s thoughts and soon becomes dear to readers as well. References to his favorite book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” add another layer of resonance to Caitlin’s story.
 
Her friendship with a first grader, and her hard-earned ability to feel empathy, even for the cousin of the boy who shot her brother, reassure Caitlin – and readers – that she will be ready for the next step in her life. By the end of the book, she even accepts a teacher’s gift of pastels and decides she’s ready to add color to her black-and-white world.
 
If you liked seeing the world through Caitlin’s eyes, you’ll enjoy two other books told from the viewpoint of kids like her. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon tells how fifteen-year-old Christopher solves a mystery despite his lack of ability to read other people’s emotions. Siobhan Dowd’s “The London Eye Mystery” presents a classic locked-room puzzle that’s solved by Ted, a boy whose “neurological cross wiring” gives him, like Caitlin and Christopher, a literal view of the world.
 
Find out how the author’s own family and experiences influenced her writing of the book in this interview
 
 
This review was originally published in slightly different form in the January/February/March 2010 issue of Virginia Libraries.