By Kathryn Erskine
Middle Grade (ages 10 & up), • 235 pages
Published by Puffin Books • 2010
Ten year old Caitlyn and her community must cope with the aftermath of a school shooting, which claimed the life of Caitlyn’s older brother, Devon, and two others at Devon’s school. Before the shooting, Caitlyn had depended on Devon to navigate her social world, an opaque labyrinth for Caitlyn, who is on the autism spectrum. Now, bereft of her brother and her mother, who had succumbed to cancer years earlier, Caitlyn has only her dad at home, but he is drowning in his own grief.
With the support of the school community, Caitlyn befriends a first grader who lost his mother in the shooting. She also learns to be a friend to an unlikely schoolmate: the cousin of the shooter. Caitlyn convinces her father to work with her to complete a special project begun by Devon. In the process, Caitlyn learns about empathy, friendship, and the most elusive of all concepts, closure.
Mockingbird is the most poignant, exquisite, and moving first person narrative I have encountered since reading Flowers for Algernon. Every scene in this story aches with the incongruity between Caitlyn’s perspective and that of the other characters, not to mention the reader. At times, this mismatch is hilarious; at other times, it is heartbreaking. As the mother of a child on the autism spectrum, I deeply appreciate Erskine’s portrayal of the school community and the rich complexity of its characters as they cope with trauma and with children who are different. I first read this book two years ago and fell in love with it. Reading it again now, after so many more school shootings, it feels even more relevant and urgent.
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