Book Review: Mockingbird by Katheryn Erskine
Author: Kathryn Erskine
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When I first came across this book, I knew it was something that I, not only needed to read, but needed to share with all of you! A huge part of that is due to the fact that my son is mildly autistic (he would have been diagnosed with Asperger's if he had been diagnosed before the DSM-V was released and changed the way we diagnose Autism), but I also wanted some insight, if I could find some. This is what I found.
What is it about?
After Devon, Caitlin's brother, was shot in a school shooting, her black and white world came crashing down all around her. Her single father found himself trying his hardest, but his overpowering grief made life at home even more difficult for young Caitlin as she struggled to not just understand why her brother left and how to continue without him, but the world as a whole. Caitlin has Asperger's, which makes it difficult for her to understand and process the world, and people around her in such way that it manages to effect almost every aspect of her life. Now, she's left in a world filled with kids and peers that shun her for her differences and adults who don't understand her or how to help her. But things start to change for Caitlin when she learns a new word, "closure", and starts to find it for herself and those she cares about.
What did I think about it?
Mockingbird was not what I expected, however I can't tell if that's good or bad. I found Mockingbird to be slow in progression. There was no action, little true resolve or satisfying ending and, at first, felt like the portrayal of Caitlin was a little extreme for Asperger's. Even more disappointing was that many of the adults in Caitlin's life didn't seem to grow much or gain much perspective, which I would have loved to see.
The biggest help for me while reading this book was a phrase that is often used in the Autism community: If you've met one person with Autism, you've met one person with Autism. Simply put, Autism is more then just a spectrum of abilities and struggles, it's a spectrum of people. Autism presents and and manifests itself in such a diverse way, no two people with Autism are a like or even share the same exact experiences with Autism. Reminding me of this was crucial for me, personally, to enjoy this book. It allowed me to step back and distance myself a little in order to stop comparing Caitlin with my son, or comparing their experiences. Once I could do that, I was able to come to my own conclusions about the positive aspects of the story.
As I stated before, I was hoping to find some insight to the inter workings of my son's brain through reading this book. The truth is, that was never really going to happen, but I did find some insight in my behavior and our behavior of society in general. Caitlin, like so many others, lives in her own world. In her world, things are just so. Rules and situations are black and white and the very things so many of us take for granted are uncomfortable, hard and sometimes even physically painful for Caitlin. She has created her own little world of sorts, where she rules and her needs and wants and understanding of the world around her serve as her law book. While her world was not entirely inaccurate, there were many things that she just struggled to "Get It" or times when she has to remind herself of the "rules" or lessons others had provided for her.
But what really resonated with me is that almost everyone in her life, even when they try to understand her, make one mistake that so many of us often make, they try to pull her out of her world instead of trying to enter her world to meet her part way. It then becomes a struggle to conform as the adults and her peers try to change her and her ways to meet their standards and comforts while losing her needs, wants,and comforts, ultimately causing more damage. In the end, it's the few who accept her, meet her in her world and journey with her to find a happy medium between the two worlds that she connects with and finds a bond to share.
While I did find myself getting angry with harsh and cruel remarks made by others around her, cheering for her successes and crying for her pain, what stuck with me most were the people in her life, the ones making so many of the same mistakes due to lack of understanding that so many family members, teachers, peers and the population at large makes with working with someone on the spectrum.
I would have loved to see the people around Caitlin grow and see some of the things they could have done better and I kind of felt like the ending was weak and unsatisfying in many ways, I absolutely appreciated the exhaustion Caitlin's father, especially, had in caring for her, as there is just no putting into words how exhausting that can be. There was also something almost poetic about the way it ended, and that Caitlin had only just begun to find closure, as closure is such a personal and difficult thing to find, especially in an unexpected, traumatic even like a school shooting. It is because of this conflict within myself that I have a really hard time deciding what to rate this book and sharing if I liked it...or not.
At the end of the day, though, I think it was a great read. It wasn't difficult skill wise and it did give some insight into a complicated and very difficult to explain situation. I do believe that parts of this book could have done better, I am grateful to see literature about those on the spectrum, as they are under represented, especially girls. I don't think I'm going to want to read Mockingbird again and again, but it did make me care for Caitlin, stirred up feeling strong enough to make me cry and laugh out loud and that means something.
So...I rate this
4 out of five mocking birds!
But that's just me. Have you read this book? What did you think about it? What insight did you gain?