Mockingbird – Kathryn Erskine
Asperger’s Syndrome is a topic quite close to my heart, which is what drew me to Mockingbird in the first place. The main character – who has Asperger’s – is a girl named Caitlin, and the story is quite simply her personal growth in the context of two issues: the difficulties that Asperger’s creates, primarily social ones, and the fact that her older brother Devon was recently killed in a school shooting.
The first person narration is fantastically done (Kathryn Erskine mentions in a Q&A at the end of the book that her daughter has Asperger’s): we get inside Caitlin’s head really well and understand the unique way that she sees the world. To anyone familiar with Asperger’s, it’s all very believable: Caitlin’s blunt dialogue, her literal-mindedness, her initial preference of avoiding social contact, and her awkwardness when she does try to make friends. To Caitlin, social interaction involves a lot of focussed, conscious learning, like practicing eye contact with her counsellor and giving herself stickers when she remembers good manners.
Mockingbird isn’t a very long story, and is ultimately a simple one: the chronicle of Caitlin’s progression, to find closure for Devon’s death (Caitlin herself, after looking up ‘closure’ in her beloved dictionary, sees it as an objective target rather than an abstract) and become better at interacting with and understanding people. We do see other characters going through similar journeys, like Caitlin’s father, and her younger friend Michael, but we can only view them through Caitlin’s eyes, and Caitlin – who is still grasping the concept of empathy – tends to focus on her own feelings; after all, they’re the ones she has the best understanding of.
In my eyes, the simplicity was the main thing that prevented Mockingbird from being an exceptional read: I didn’t feel that challenged by it. It wasn’t as good as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time; that book is also narrated by a character with Asperger’s, but has a more complex and compelling story. While in both stories, the reader can sometimes infer things from the character’s observations that the character themselves doesn’t comprehend, there’s not as much of that in Mockingbird than there is in Curious Incident; the world surrounding the character doesn’t feel quite as substantial.
However, Mockingbird is still a well-written story with a good portrayal of Asperger’s and an uplifting character journey. Rating: 4/5.
Managing to have a few books on the go at the moment: been reading 11 Doctors, 11 Stories at bedtime, listening to the audiobook of The Farm by Tom Rob Smith on the bus to and from work, and will be reading The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion at other points in the day.