A Review of Mockingbird

Review By Elaina Daniels

Sadly, school shootings have become a part of our world.  Time and time again we turn on the television or radio to hear acts of violence being performed on our children in the place where we hope that they would feel the safest.  Children who feel disconnected, enraged, and abused by their peers take a horrifying direction in their lives; choosing to end the lives of those around them, and often, themselves.


For most of us, within a few weeks, the horror of the event fades.  Time goes on, the news media stops reporting it, and we move on, shuddering occasionally at the thought of something like that happening in our own community.


But for those who are personally impacted by the event, it does not end so simply.  Mockingbird, written by Kathryn Erskine, takes us into that world.  Set in the aftermath of a school shooting, we are invited into the personal agony of a family who lost one of their own.  Healing is not perfect, and Mockingbird shows just how gut wrenching that it can be.


There is an unexpected twist to this story though.  Caitlin, the main character whose brother is murdered in the shooting, is autistic.  For her whole life, Devon had been Caitlin’s interpreter into the real world.  Devon helped Caitlin navigate the confusion of a world that is not always black and white.  His life ends tragically, unexpectedly.


Now Caitlin is left alone with only a father who cannot escape his grief.  He is so deep in his own world of pain, that he cannot do anything for her.  In order to help her cope, she sees a school counselor named Mrs. Brook.  Mrs. Brook attempts to help Caitlin not only deal with her grief, but also tries to teach her how to make friends.


Caitlin finally begins to do just that, when she meets a little boy named Michael.  His mother was one of the adults killed in the shooting.  Michael’s father is also mired in his grief, and his answer to everything is to play football.  Their budding friendship becomes complicated when young Michael also becomes friends with Josh, who is the cousin of the school shooter.


Through a chance encounter with a wise art teacher and visits to Mrs. Brook, Caitlin begins the search for closure.  She knows that finding closure will help her, her father, and the whole community.  If she can only convince her father to help her with this special project, she knows it will work.


This is the kind of book that you literally cannot put down, unless you are putting it down for a few minutes to pull yourself together.  It is a heart-breaking book, but it has moments of unintentional humor.  Caitlin’s attempts to understand the world around her lead to some unexpected smiles.  It is an amazingly unique perspective.  So many people outside the autistic community believe that autistic children do not experience the emotions and grief processes that everyone else does.  This book shatters that misconception.


For more information about the author, please visit her website at http://www.kathyerskine.com. Mockingbird is the recipient of many awards, including:

National Book Award Winner, 2010
International Reading Association Award, 2011
Crystal Kite Award, 2011
Golden Kite Honor Book, 2011
Southern Independent Booksellers Award, 2011
American Library Association’s Children’s Notable Book, 2011
American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2011
Bank Street Best Children’s Books (Outstanding Merit), 2011
Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children and Teens, 2011
New York Public Library’s Children’s Books 2010:  100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
Junior Library Guild Selection, 2010


On her site, she provides a list of resources that she used for her research about Asberger’s including  the book, Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew, by Ellen Notbohm.  See our review of that book here, as well as our interview with Ellen Notbohm.


Elaina Daniels is a 13 year educator, who had taught at the elementary/middle school level for all of those years.  She has taught all subjects, but her passion is Reading.  She has two children, aged 9 and 7.  Her oldest son was diagnosed with autism.  Elaina lives on a farm in Southwest Missouri with her husband of 11 years. Together, they raise children, dogs, and cattle.


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