Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine – review.

I heard a lot about this book via twitter, but couldn’t find any UK reviews until I read an article in the guardian (which I of course can’t find now. Bother). So I searched to see if any UK book bloggers had read it, and instead connected with the publishers, who send me a copy to read for review. I scanned the first page and something about it put me off, so I put it down again.

It’s hung around in my TBR pile until I’ve had some time to sit and give it my full attention, and two nights ago I picked it up and got on with it.

I finished it this morning. And what did I think?

First of all, it’s not really a book you can review without spoilers. Although having said that, the plot is pretty much laid out in the synopsis, so if you read that before you get going, you’re there. Caitlin is 10, and has Aspergers. Her mother died a few years ago, and her brother has just been killed in a school shooting, which also claimed the life of a teacher as well as one of the teenage shooters.

The town she lives in is traumatised by all this as you might expect, but the story focusses most closely on Caitlin and her father. The reason I struggled at the start is that the very first page is a simile from Caitlin’s point of view about her brother’s Eagle Scout project – a chest that he was making, that languishes unfinished in their house. The description is in precisely the kind of non literal language that we go on to find confuses Caitlin hugely – which just didn’t ring right for me.

Most of the rest of the book however, encompasses that type of difficulty as well as covering sensory issues, rigidity, meltdowns and so on. My understanding of Asperger’s is that it is different for each person who experiences it, and that isn’t necessarily made clear. Also I understand that for many girls with Aspergers it is often masked by their desire to fit in and ability to mimic what is going on around them – a strategy that tends to fall apart around puberty. Caitlin doesn’t experience those desires or have the mimicry abilities – instead she is an incredibly good artist.

I think in a way it’s a shame that this character has this impressive skill, as it’s by no means guaranteed that a child with Asperger’s will have a consolation skill as it were, and this type of book is likely to reinforce that Rainman stereotype. Having said that, it’s still important that Asperger’s is now being explored in fiction in this way.

I think the main plot line is a difficult one for UK readers to work through – the idea of teenagers running amok in schools with guns is not really one that I can begin to contemplate. Nevertheless a uniting tragedy is one we can all identify with in some part, and the steps towards Closure taken by the whole community as a result of Caitlin struggling towards her own understanding of the happenings seem to me to be both plausible and upsetting at the same time.

This is a remarkably thought provoking book that I suspect will be around for some time – accessible to teens and adults, and definitely worth reading, though with a critical eye to some extent, and it would benefit from discussion afterwards.

Thank you Usborne, for supplying it to me for review.

About Jax Blunt

I'm the original user, Jax Blunt I've been blogging for 14 years, give or take, and if you want to know me, read me :)

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    • Yes, I found that one, but was sure the article I read was earlier than that, and written by a woman. Maybe I’m misremembering.

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