I fully admit that had Mockingbird not won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature last week, I probably wouldn’t have read it. I’ll also tell you that by page 9, I was already starting to get dribbly: “… I still don’t want to talk so I push my head under Dad’s sweater and feel the warmth of his chest as he breathes up and down and I smell his Gillette Cool Wave Antiperspirant and Deodorant. … Dad talks to the world outside the sweater and his voice makes a low hummy-vibratey feel. I close my eyes and wish I could stay here forever.”
Realizing early on that I wasn’t going to be able to keep the waterworks in control, I probably shouldn’t have been reading in a public place. But once you start, you won’t be able to put it down … so be warned: keep some tissues in hand.
In spite of the grand award, I knew virtually nothing about the story. Which was a blessing … one that every reader should have. So stop here and just read it …
If you absolutely need a few details, here goes: Caitlin is age 10 almost 11, and in the 5th grade. She has Aspberger’s syndrome. As the novel starts, Caitlin is trying to get through a funeral. Father and daughter must deal with The Day Our Life Fell Apart. Even though she doesn’t always Get It, Caitlin will be the one strong enough (and smart enough) to figure out how to find Closure.
When you’re done with the story (and finished cleaning up your weepy face), be sure to read the closing “Author’s Note.” To tell you why will probably reveal too much of the story … but placing the book in the context of recent events is of utmost importance: “… I hope that readers will see that, by getting inside someone’s head, really understanding that person,” insists author Kathryn Erskine, “so many misunderstandings and problems can be avoided – misunderstandings and problems that can lead to mounting frustration and, sometimes, even violence.”
For being such an emotionally-charged read, Erskine’s writing is never ever manipulative. Caitlin’s voice is so matter-of-fact and spot on that every word is believable … and definitely memorable. Mockingbird also makes for an excellent companion to Mark Haddon’s marvelous The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which also stars an unforgettable young protagonist with Aspberger’s. Read both together because, as Erskine says, understanding is the first step towards avoiding problems … and ultimately finding peace.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult