If you read this blog with anything approaching regularity, you probably think I have an obsession with Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird--and you're right. But this time I'm on a different track--at least partially. Kathryn Erskine's novel Mockingbird is the story of Caitlin Smith, a fifth grader with Asperger's Syndrome whose middle school brother was killed by a school shooter. His unfinished Eagle Scout project remains in the living room, covered by a sheet, a constant reminder to Caitlin and her grieving father that Devon will not be finishing it.
Caitlin tells her own story--the perfect textbook example of a naive narrator--as she tries to come to terms with what is lacking in her skills set. She can belch the alphabet, a skill that serves her well on the playground during the younger children's recess, but doesn't help much with making friends her own age. She is also an avid reader with a particular interest in the dictionary. One word she tries to understand--and attain--is Closure.
Erskine's title is an allusion to Lee's novel. Caitlin knew the book well and the movie better. Her brother had nicknamed her Scout, and she believes that with funny glasses and different clothes, her dad would be just like Atticus.
Erskine gives voice to the girl in a gentler way than Haddon did in The Curious Incident of the Dog at Nighttime. The uses capital letters and exclamation points freely, sometimes realizing someone is screaming "and it might be me." The book lacks the strong language that keep some teachers and parents from using Curious Incident with younger readers. For young adult readers, though, the strongest lesson, one learned not only by Caitlin but by many of the other characters as well is that of Empathy.