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Mockingbird
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136 of 142 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2010
I am trying as hard as I possibly can to hold back the tears that are welling up in my eyes right now. I have just finished reading this spectacular, extraordinarily touching book, and it has affected me so much I can't believe it. I don't even know why I'm crying.

It's rare that a book like this affects me. Usually when a book states up front that its protagonist is on the autism spectrum, I prepare myself for crying big, hysterical tears, and then... nothing. Books about quirky outsiders, yeah, those get to me. "Stargirl" made my eyes water, "Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree" made me sniffle (happy tears, though), "How to Say Goodbye in Robot" made me weep openly, and I'm not even gonna go into what happened the first time I read "A Corner of the Universe" (okay, that one had a character with some kind of autism in it but I'm letting it slide because it wasn't the protagonist). But stuff like "Marcelo in the Real World" and "Anything But Typical," both of which were highlights of last year for me, leaves me dry-eyed. I strongly disliked "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," so I wasn't surprised that I didn't cry then, but the other two? I felt like a heartless monster, completely unable to empathize with fictional people going through what I do. Then I read "Mockingbird." Whoa. Guess I was wrong.

Okay, what I want to convey to you right now is that the portrayal of Asperger Syndrome here is dead-on. Pitch perfect. All the stereotyped stuff I hoped the book wouldn't lapse into, that I think so many people believe to be fact, was avoided. So much of what Caitlin does and experiences is stuff I did and went through when I was her age. The way she talks. The way she sucks on her sleeves and names gummy worms. Her love of reading. The misinterpretation of social cues. The grossly inappropriate way she handles some things. And, most sadly of all, her difficulty with dealing with people and the way those kids reacted to her. (I definitely wanted to throttle one of those girls, she reminded me so much of one of my past tormentors.) Of course, being a kid with AS is also frustrating to people around you, and the book refuses to shy away from that. At times you'll want to scream at Caitlin, "Don't do that! Stop it!" and that's a perfectly appropriate reaction. It's not hard to see why people are frustrated, yet you will still feel for her and want her to do well. I also loved how Caitlin became friends with a person younger than herself; many people with AS find it easier to talk to people that are a few years older or younger than themselves, I think. (I certainly have, in the past.)

The other characters are great. I can't believe I didn't hate Josh immediately (he used the word "freak" liberally and I'm inclined to despise anyone who does that, fictional or not; it's nails on a chalkboard to me). On the contrary, I felt for him almost immediately, considering what he's been through. (Chapter 35 is when I started crying, if you want to know or would like a warning.) And Michael? Loved him, of course. Such a good kid and a good friend. I felt for Caitlin's dad especially, even when I was wishing he wouldn't cry so much. (Really, though, considering all he's been through, he could've locked himself in his room and stayed in there forever and it would've been completely justified.) I would've liked a little more Emma, though; she seemed like a good kid.

Despite how much I loved it and that I'm giving it the highest possible score, I'll acknowledge that it's not perfect. No book is perfect. A few times, the run-on sentences reminded me of "The Curious Incident," which was unpleasant. The capitalized words took a little while to get used to. A little bit of what Caitlin says is too precocious and cute, even for a kid with AS. Basically, it's not the most unbelievably smooth book to read. The way it's written isn't so overwhelmingly gorgeous that you have to remind yourself that the protagonist basically spent a paragraph of a hundred flowery words just to describe a brick wall, which means there are certain people who won't like it very much. However, the emotional core is sincere and the details are perfect. It may not win any of the big awards, but it should. Considering the buzz it's getting already, it very well could. What do I know?

Anyway, this is so far my favorite book of the year. I know it's only the beginning of the year, but I doubt that any other book this year will have this sort of effect on me. I highly recommend that you give it a look. I anticipate that I'll be reading it again soon enough.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2010
I loved this book. I read it straight through on the day I brought it home. The author has a lovely "ear" for dialogue, particularly the inner dialogue of a young girl who sees the world through the lens of Aspergers. The themes in the book, however, are rich and varied. This is no "trendy syndrome" book but is a complex and touching story of a family, of the complications of love and death and renewal. I'd give it to parents trying to understand their quirky child, to teachers and counselors. But I'd also give it to any child who wants a great read and a main character who feels real and who you would want as a friend. It brings home the truth that we are all alike in some unfathomable way.

And hey, just so it's clear-the book is also funny, warm, and unflaggingly interesting. And the author has made a connection that I find fascinating and food for thought, but I won't reveal that. It will make me dig out and reread another beloved story. I look forward enthusiastically to more books from the author.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Caitlin has Asperger's Syndrome and she has lost the one person who understood and was helping her "not act so weird". Her brother, Devon, was always helping her by telling her what not to do. When he gets shot in a school shooting though, he is gone from her life forever. Now Caitlin has to find her own way to make friends and find closure, even if she needs a little help from her counselor.

This was a very touching novel. I had mistaken this for The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney, which is a very different story. I was not disappointed by this one though. This novel really got inside the head of someone who looks at the world a little differently than most people. It talks about loss and how much it affects everyone in a community and how some people have a harder time getting on afterward. Kathryn did an excellent job capturing the children's grief and Caitlin's journey into finding closure. I loved the relationship with Caitlin and her father. In the book she compares them(after her brother has) to Atticus and Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird. Her father is definitely strong like Atticus because you can see how hard it is for him to cope with the loss of his wife and son while taking care of Caitlin. He is very patient. This book should be a must read for any middle school or high school student. It has so many good aspects that will help people not only understand Asperger's but also to understand how everyone feels grief a little differently.

First Line:
"It looks like a one-winged bird crouching in the corner of our living room."

Favorite Line:
"I push my head farther under the sofa cushion but it doesn't swallow me up like I want it to."
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2010
Reason for Reading: I have Asperger's and when I saw a book that featured a female protagonist with Asperger's I was elated and HAD to read the book.

I came away from this book very satisfied. As a female with Asperger's I felt that Caitlin was portrayed realistically. There can be wide differences in how males and females present and I think the author managed to bring those out in Caitlin, though the intense plot does put Caitlin in a situation above and beyond normal everyday life.

A small town has been devastated. The local junior high was hit by two gun wielding students who managed to kill one teacher and two students before the police shot one perpetrator and apprehended the other. One of the students who was shot is Caitlin's older brother, Devon. Their mother had died many years ago when Caitlin was a baby and Devon had really become her rock. He was a great big brother. He treated her well and knew how to deal with her as a person with Asperger's almost naturally. He'd tell her not to do stuff 'cause it wasn't cool or that people didn't like it when she did this or that and why and his advice helped her. Now Caitlin's world revolves around seeing a councilor daily at school, coping with her father's sudden crying sessions and missing Devon in her own way. People want her to be more emotional and show more empathy (traits those with Asperger's do not always appear to show) and Caitlin finally finds the word "CLOsure" and knows that is what both she and her father need.

The plot itself is well done. A small community coping with this horrible violence that has entered its once thought serene boundaries. The author shows the effect not only on the family of those murdered and the staff and students at the school, but staff at other schools, neighbours, and a boy who was the cousin of one of the killers. There is fear, disbelief, and togetherness but no anger as they bond to help the community as one, heal. Very-well done.

As to the Asperger's, from the author's note she does not outright say but it seems clear that either she or a loved one has an 'aspie' child and she is writing from experience. Caitlin is well presented as a female with Asperger's. The typical picture the public has of someone with AS is a science, math, computer geek and this is not wrong. These are often very strong interests in males (which doesn't mean some females will too) but typically females show their 'geekiness' in words and books. They are writers, bookworms, grammar police, etc. Caitlin here is an excellent student with great writing skills and a fascination with the dictionary, who keeps lists of words with the accentuated part in caps. Typical female AS behaviour. Caitlin has some meltdowns, fortunately the author doesn't over do them, as has been done in other books I've read. Girls are less likely to have seriously noticeable meltdowns and hyperactivity making the typical age of diagnoses around 16 rather 8 as in boys. Caitlin's two least favourite subjects at school are recess and PE. This really endeared her to me as those were my most hated subjects as well. There is this anxiety feeling you get in the pit of your stomach as an aspie and Caitlin associates this with recess so whenever she gets this feeling she will say she is feeling recessy or has the recess feeling. This beautifully describes an everyday symptom of Asperger's.

The main aspect the author emphasizes here though is the AS person's lack of ability to show emotion or empathy. I think Erskine does manage to show that while we do not show emotion it does not mean we do not feel emotion. Two very different points to keep in mind. Empathy is something that Caitlin herself struggles with and tries to understand and the whole book is a process for her in finding out how to show she has this to others and to understand herself, that she does. While many Asperger's people may lack emotion or empathy, I think the majority of us agree that we lack the ability to SHOW it, rather than that we do not feel the emotions or know how to feel them. I would also like to add my own bit of advice: Never *force* an Asperger's person to look you in the eye, it is akin to torture.

Anyway, I felt a lot of sympatico with Caitlin and the author in her ability to show a positive female character with Asperger's. My only negative is that *I* personally do not agree with the the medical methods being used to treat Caitlin.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This is the kind of book that I think adults want children to love, but I don't know if children love it. My 12-year-old daughter is an avid reader (and like me, an avid audiobook listener as well), so I told her to listen. She said that it sounded sad, so she wouldn't even try it. I think that she would have liked it, and I don't think it's sad, but I do think that it's more likely to appeal to adults or perhaps older teens who are looking for a more cerebral story.

If someone is touched by Asperger's Syndrome by knowing a classmate, a friend, or a sibling affected by it, I definitely think it would appeal to that kind of reader. I am not personally affected, but am so glad that I read it, hearing Caitlin's voice so clearly.

I think that Out of My Mind, a similar novel from a person's point of view who has a disability, drove the theme of understanding home in a stronger way and with a voice that would probably be more appealing and understandable to 10 - 13 year old readers.

I definitely liked this book. It's a beautiful story -- dramatic, thoughtful, and even funny at times, but I wonder how high the "kid appeal" really is.

If you are an adult reader, and you enjoyed this book, go read Emma Donoghue's Room: A Novel, or vice-versa. Someone who loved ROOM should read MOCKINGBIRD.

AUDIO NOTES: This was an excellent narration. It's in Caitlin's POV, so it would be hard to make it authentic, but Angela Rogers did it. A great listen!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2010
Caitlin, age almost 11, has Asperger Syndrome (AS), and emphasizes she is not autistic. She has early intervention pull-out sessions in her school with Mrs. Brook, her counselor. At times, Caitlin says things that makes Mrs. Brook's head do a turtle jerk. Caitlin discovers the word "CLO-sure" and decides to pursue this.

If you know anyone with AS, this book is even more meaningful. I have worked with students with Asperger. I'm reminded of one student who would come into my office ANGRY because of someone else. When telling the student the other person's side of the issue, I often drew comic strips with word balloons. That helped show perspective and the child would go, "Ah---I understand. But that's still not fair."

Mockingbird has recently been nominated for the first BFYA (ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults award) to be given in 2011. It well deserves this award!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2012
I have Asperger's Syndrome myself.

While reading Mockingbird, the first thing I noticed was that some words were capitalized, and the dialogue was in italics rather than quotations. I still don't quite understand the dialogue, but I instantly understood the certain capitalizations. Phrases such as "I Get It" or "Look At The Person", and my favorite "Deal With It" were capitalized. To me, these are important phrases in the language of an Aspie. Therefore, these phrases are written to stand out.

While I have been told that I am very high on the Autism Spectrum myself, I've never quite understood this. I can understand that the main character in this book, which is written from the perspective of 10 year old Caitlin, a girl with Asperger's, isn't quite as high on the spectrum as I might be. However, I am also more than 10 years older than she is. That being said, I could make connections between how she thought and how the other characters thought.

The hardest part for me was seeing how I probably had acted at the age of 10, and what others may have been laughing about without me knowing. Both kids and teachers can be cruel, and this book doesn't completely deny it. Still, I loved how the author could show why Caitlin could so much more easily befriend a child many years younger or an adult many years older, rather than a peer her own age.

In the end, this book made me ask one main question: What do I still need to understand and work on?
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84 of 111 people found the following review helpful
Children's librarians read quite a few books for kids and the result is that we tend to want to discuss them with one another. Unlucky librarians are surrounded solely by people who agree with their opinions. You're much luckier if you happen to have a group of close folks around you who can offer alternate takes on the books you read and critique. Now, it doesn't happen every year but once in a while children's books (novels in particular) become divisive. Folks draw battle lines in the sand and declare that a book is either infinitely lovable and the greatest thing since sliced bread, or loathsome beyond belief, the words shaming the very paper they are printed upon. In the last few years such divisive books have included everything from "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane" to "The Underneath". This year, 2010, one particular book has earned that honor. "Mockingbird" by Kathryn Erskine marks the author's second foray into books for youth (the first being her young adult novel "Quaking"). It has garnered a great deal of praise, from such notable authors as Andrew Clements and Sharon Creech. It has been nominated, as of this review, for a National Book Award in the Young Person's category. And I tell you truly, I'm afraid that it's a book that just doesn't do it for me. There are some great books coming out in 2010, but this is simply not one of them.

Caitlin doesn't quite understand. Her older brother Devon is dead, killed tragically in a school shooting. She understands that, of course, but she doesn't like what his death has brought with it. As a kid with Asperger's, Caitlin has a difficult enough time figuring out the world around her as it is. Now she has glommed onto a word that seems to offer her a way out her current unhappiness: Closure. If she can find closure for Devon's death, maybe that will help her, help her dad, help everyone who's hurting. The only question is, what can a girl like Caitlin do to help herself and everyone else as well?

Here are some of the criticisms of "Mockingbird" that I personally do not ascribe to. 1: That children will not pick this book up. Certainly they won't pick up the hardcover (the paperback sports a much nicer, if unfortunately trendy, image) due to the fact that it's just a blue sky and not much else. But if they begin to read, I can see them being sufficiently intrigued to continue. 2: That this is not an authentic view of Asperger's. I don't agree, partially because you do have to take each child on a case by case basis.

Here are some of the criticisms of "Mockingbird" that I personally DO ascribe to: First off, there is the fact that the book is attempting too much at one time. This is true. "Mockingbird" wants to be three different kinds of books all at once. It would prefer to be a book about a school shooting and how a community deals with the aftermath. This is the very first thing Erskine mentions in the Author's Note, so it appears to be the most important to her. The second thing it would like to be is a book about Asperger's. Done. Third, it would ALSO like to be a book about a dead family member. That's three different storylines. Three that in and of themselves would be more than enough for any middle grade novel. And I think that two of them together would have worked just fine, but by adding all three together Erskine overplays her hand. She relies on Caitlin solving not just her own personal problems, but the problems of an entire community. This rings false for the reader, and the novel's conclusion ends up feeling rushed and pat rather than true and heartfelt.

Which brings us to my second problem. When it comes to the conclusion of any novel, the reader needs to believe in it. If everything appears too pat, you lose something along the way. In the case of Caitlin, the closure is too clean. Right off the bat you have the question of why Caitlin is so obsessed with the nature of closure, not just for herself but for everyone. Compare this book for a moment to Alan Silberberg's, "Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze". Like Caitlin, the hero of that book, Milo, is searching for a kind of closure to his mother's death. He is singularly self-obsessed, much like Caitlin, but his pain is his own, with some understanding that his dad and sister must feel somewhat similar. When Milo finds a solution to his problem (finding and seeking out objects that remind him of his mother) it inadvertently brings him and his father together again. That, I could believe. Caitlin's belief that she needs to find closure for her entire community, though? Unfortunately, I felt manipulated by that sudden shift in plotting. It seemed necessary for the story for Caitlin to help her community come to terms with her brother's death, but I didn't believe for a moment that Caitlin the character would care about others in this manner. She goes from an inability to feel empathy one moment to becoming the most empathetic girl in the whole wide world the next. I didn't buy it.

The writing itself for the most part wasn't problematic. However, there were little moments when I found it getting a touch cutesy. After hearing Mrs. Brook tell her that she is convinced that Caitlin can learn empathy, our heroine slips off her shoes and touches her toes to the floor. "I pull my feet off of the floor and shove them back into my sneakers. At least I tried dipping my toe in empathy." That's a fair example of a couple points in the story where the text becomes a little too on the nose to feel real. It doesn't happen often, but there are moments.

The Asperger's I do not question because that is tricky territory. I do not have a child with Asperger's and Ms. Erskine does. However, this raises a fairly interesting point in and of itself. When Cynthia Lord wrote the Newbery Honor winning book "Rules" she made her narrator not an autistic boy, but rather his put upon older sister. This was remarkably clever of her. Then, when you get to the end of the book, the reader finds out via the bookflap that the author has an autistic son of her own. The book is therefore lent a kind of authenticity through this admission. As I read "Mockingbird" however, I found myself wondering if the author had any personal connection or knowledge of Asperger's that could lend the book similar authenticity. I read the bookflap and the Author's Note and came up with nothing. Nada. It was only through the grapevine that I heard the rumor that Ms. Erskine has a daughter of her own with Asperger's. Now why on earth would the book wish to hide this fact? By the time I reached the end I wanted to believe that the writer had some knowledge of the subject, but instead of including a list of useful sources, or even a website kids can check, the Author's Note speaks instead about the Virginia Tech shootings. A harrowing incident to be sure, but why avoid mentioning that someone you love has a connection to your main character? It made for a very strange gap.

Finally, there is Caitlin's voice. It drove me absolutely insane. Some have argued that this is a good thing. If Caitlin's voice annoys you then the author must be doing something right in creating a character that doesn't fall into the usual middle grade pattern of protagonists. She is unique. I note this theory, but I don't agree with it. My annoyance isn't necessarily who Caitlin is, but rather the fact that I never for one moment believe that I'm listening to a girl. Instead, for much of this book I felt like I was reading an adult woman putting herself into the head of a girl like Caitlin. How else to explain the off-putting "humorous" moments when Caitlin fails to understand a word or term? We have been assured that she reads at an adult level. Certainly her vocabulary should be through the roof, and yet she stumbles when she hits words as simple as "closure" and "fundraiser" (turning it into the strangely out-of-character "fun raiser"). It seems that Caitlin is only as smart as the plot allows her to be. Otherwise, she's adorably out-of-place, and that manipulation rang false.

Many folks have found themselves comparing this book to a fellow 2010 release, "Out of My Mind" by Sharon Draper. Like "Mockingbird", Ms. Draper's book is a first person narrative of a girl dealing with the world around her. In Draper's story the main character has cerebral palsy, just as Ms. Draper's daughter does (and just as that book ALSO fails to mention anywhere). The difference for me lies in the characters. What I have found, though, is that many people dislike these books for similar reasons. Some people find "Mockingbird" charming and "Out of My Mind" manipulative. Others feel it's the other way around. Personally, I think that Draper's book is the better of the two, though Ms. Erskine is an excellent writer. I'm certain that in the future she will produce books that I will like to read. Unfortunately, in the case of "Mockingbird" the problems outweigh the positives. The book doesn't ring true for me, even if the writer is talented. Hopefully in the future we'll see more of her work but for now I'll be recommending books like "Out of My Mind" over others like "Mockingbird".

For ages 9-12.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2010
I just finished Mockingbird. It is a wonderful story, told from the point of view of a young girl with Asbergers. This is a meaningful story for so many reasons, and one that kids in upper elementary and middle school should read. I also recommend it to parents and educators. As a teacher, I recognize some of Caitlin's behaviors in my own students. It's so helpful to understand the point of view of a child with Asbergers. I highly recommend this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2015
Why I chose this book:
This was another book I had to read for my YA lit grad class, and I read it from cover to cover in a single afternoon. I’ve never read a YA book whose central character had a mental disability. In this case, Caitlin has Aspergers syndrome. I love that this class is stretching me and making me read more diverse.

My Bookish Thoughts:
This book is full of fantastic real life situations. Caitlin has Aspergers and her brother was killed in a school shooting. This alone will tell you that it can be a difficult read, but oh my gosh was it so rewarding to be able to read.

First, let me talk about diversity. As of 2013, only 3% of YA books on the New York Times best sellers list was about characters with disabilities (which ended up being two titles that involved cancer and related disabilities and depression). That slight percentage breaks my heart, because it is through diverse books that readers truly learn how to empathize with those who are different from them.

Caitlin’s disability is astoundingly portrayed in this book. She has problems with textures; she doesn’t pick up on social cues; she takes things in a very literal sense; she likes structure in schedules and situations; she doesn’t do well with noise, especially screaming and loud noises that disrupt her, among other things. I love how Erskine really looked deeply at what affects people with Aspergers. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand about people with Aspergers that I now know how to interact with them and make sure that they are more comfortable. For me, this is what this book should do: teach people how to interact and empathize with people who are different from them.

This was a tear jerker and tugged on all the heart strings. I found myself tearing up in many parts of the book just because I could actually feel Caitlin’s confusion and frustration with the world. My mother works with disability services, and I see how important the guidance of adults and friends are in their lives, and in this case, it was Caitlin’s brother, who is no longer there.

Final Thoughts:
Overall, I thought this was a superb book and really does a great job making the reality of a little girl with Aspergers seem very real to readers. I would recommend everyone read this book just to enrich their lives if for no other reason.

I gave this book 4 stars on my Goodreads.

Check out more of my reviews at ofspectaclesandbooks.com
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