Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mockingbird

Sometimes a book hits you when you least expect it to. A few years ago, when I picked up the book RULES by Cynthia Lord (2007 Newbery Honor) I never thought I would enjoy it the way I did. I found it interesting that Cynthia Lord chose to tell her story from the sister's perspective, creating a sense of empathy for her, when in fact, her brother was the one who was autistic. The book opened my eyes and this feeling stuck with me long after the final page.

This may be why I chose to read MOCKINGBIRD, by Kathryn Erskine. Many of the books I read tend to fall in the genres of fantasy or mystery. I remembered the feeling of awareness that overcame me upon finishing RULES and wanted to expand my reading territories for a change. RULES made such an impression on me and as simple-minded as it may sound, the similarities I saw in the plot descriptions of the two, caused me to believe I could have a similar reading experience with this one.

Wrong.

MOCKINGBIRD is the story of ten-year-old Caitlin, a child with Asperger's, who is trying to find "closure" (very literally) in a world without her older brother Devon, after he has been killed in a tragic middle school shooting.

In theory, I see how this is an intriguing idea for a novel. A story told through the eyes of a child with Asperger's. On the page, I'm not quite sure it works. It's daring. It's bold. It's definitely risky of Kathryn Erskine to try this. It's just that Caitlin's voice is so confusing (and borderline annoying) that it makes this a difficult story to follow. I don't think it's a risk that paid off.

Maybe that was the point. Frustration, on the reader's part. And if anyone could write a story like this, it would be someone like Erskine, who has a family member with Asperger's. The problem is that climbing inside the mind of someone like Caitlin is like Mission: Impossible. At times it felt like Erskine tried too hard and Caitlin's rambling run-on sentences came off as gimmicky and often forced. I had the distinct feeling I was reading the work of someone trying to imagine what it was like to have Asperger's. Not reading the work of someone with Asperger's. Plus, there's just too much going on in the plot. Too much for poor Caitlin to sort out effectively. Too much to make this experience genuine for the reader.

Observing someone with Asperger's is entirely different than speaking for them. I surely can't blame Erskine for trying but in this case, effort and good intentions does not lead to success. At least in my opinion, as MOCKINGBIRD did win the National Book Award! Shows what I know! In the end, I just can't see many children being able to stick with this story, let alone getting much out it.

Final Grade: C

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