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Mockingbird Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 15, 2010
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From School Library Journal
Grade 4–6—From inside Caitlin's head, readers see the very personal aftermath of a middle school shooting that took the life of the older brother she adored. Caitlin is a bright fifth grader and a gifted artist. She also has Asperger's syndrome, and her brother, Devon, was the one who helped her interpret the world. Now she has only her father, a widower who is grieving anew and whose ability to relate to his daughter is limited. A compassionate school counselor works with her, trying to teach her the social skills that are so difficult for her. Through her own efforts and her therapy sessions, she begins to come to terms with her loss and makes her first, tentative steps toward friendship. Caitlin's thought processes, including her own brand of logic, are made remarkably clear. The longer readers spend in the child's world, the more understandable her entirely literal and dispassionate interpretations are. Marred slightly by the portrayal of Devon as a perfect being, this is nonetheless a valuable book. After getting to know Caitlin, young people's tendencies to label those around them as either "normal" or "weird" will seem as simplistic and inadequate a system as it truly is.—Faith Brautigam, Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, IL
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Ten-year-old Caitlyn hates recess, with all its noise and chaos, and her kind, patient counselor, Mrs. Brook, helps her to understand the reasons behind her discomfort, while offering advice about how to cope with her Asperger’s Syndrome, make friends, and deal with her grief over her older brother’s death in a recent school shooting. She eschews group projects in class, claiming that she doesn’t need to learn how to get along with others, but solitude is neither good for her or her grieving father, and when Caitlyn hears the term closure, she turns to her one trusty friend, her dictionary, and sets out on a mission to find it for both of them. Along the way, Caitlyn makes many missteps, but eventually she does achieve the long-sought closure with great finesse, which is another of her favorite vocabulary words. Allusions to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the portrayal of a whole community’s healing process, and the sharp insights into Caitlyn’s behavior enhance this fine addition to the recent group of books with narrators with autism and Asperger's. Grades 4-7. --Cindy Dobrez
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The world of ten-year-old Caitlin, who has Aspergers, turns to chaos after her older brother is killed in a school shooting. Her mother is dead and her father almost paralyzed with grief. With the help of a school counselor, Caitlin searches for "closure", a word she found in the dictionary and even makes her first friend in the process.
Kathryn Erskine created a likable, intelligent, plucky voice in Caitlin. As an adult reader, Caitlin felt a bit too much like a character with traits off a checklist for diagnostic criteria for Aspergers, a recently obsolete term now simply classified as part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (although I think the APA made a mistake removing the distinction). Erskine glosses over Caitlin's TRMs, tantrum rage meltdowns without details, and with Caitlin's almost immediate recovery.
Although MOCKINGBIRD is geared toward middle grade readers, I'm not sure most children in that age group will be drawn to the story. The plot and resolution are rather simplistic. Caitlin learns empathy and friendship skills more quickly than a child without the challenges of Aspergers even could, much as a picture book could be used to help preschool children understand grief or autism. I can see where younger school age children might benefit from having a teacher or parent read and discuss autism spectrum disorder, particularly if a sibling of classmate has the condition. Middle grade level readers on the spectrum might enjoy how Caitlin gains acceptance and brings her community together as a feel good story about challenges and triumph. Middle grade age children without challenges may find the story too simplistic, particularly more sophisticated readers looking for more mature substance.
THEMES: grief, special needs, Aspergers, autism, siblings, family, friendship, school
MOCKINGBIRD is an uplifting story of a girl with Aspergers overcoming the loss of her brother in a school shooting.