Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

mockingbird“…Devon says you can’t moan or scream or shake your hands up and down or rock or get under a table or spin around over and over in public.  Actually you can’t do most things over and over in public because that’s not normal unless it’s something like clapping or laughing but you have to do it only at the right times and places and Devon always tells me. Now I don’t know anymore.”  Caitlyn is in fifth grade and she has Asperger’s syndrome.  That makes it hard for her to read other people’s emotions (she uses a chart to memorize how a person’s face looks when they’re feeling a certain emotion) or to understand idioms (like “putting herself in someone else’s shoes”).  What she’s really good at is drawing, reading, doing things exactly the same way every time (Thursday is pizza night), and remembering rules (“You shouldn’t get in someone’s personal space”).  Caitlyn and her dad are trying to find a way to go on after losing her older brother, Devon, in a tragic event.  Caitlyn’s mother died years earlier, so it’s just the two of them.  The school counselor, Mrs. Brook, becomes Caitlyn’s main source of information about human behavior, advice on how to make friends, and most importantly, how to get closure about Devon’s death.  There are many light moments in the book when Caitlyn’s inability to see past the literal meaning of something causes misunderstandings, even with Mrs. Brook. Her many eccentricities are also charming, like her habit of naming gummy worms before eating them.  Her descriptions of others’ behavior can be quite funny –“We are at recess and I think Mrs. Brook might have Asperger’s too because she is very persistent which is one of my skills.  She is stuck on her Let’s Make Friends idea even though I am making it very clear with my eyes that I am no longer interested in this conversation.” Mockingbird has joined the fairly short list of books I love featuring characters on the autism spectrum: Rules by Cynthia Lord, The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd, and Blue like Friday by Siobhan Parkinson.  Review by Stacy Church

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