I'm reviewing Kathryn Erskyne's middle grade book MOCKINGBIRD which won last year's National Book Award. I was lucky enough to meet Kathryn when she was here last year for a signing, and she is a lovely person. So .... I admit it. I'm a little late reading this one, but once again, I wasn't sure if I could handle the subject matter of the book (I was reluctant to read last week's book for the same reason).
In MOCKINGBIRD, Caitlin, a young girl who has Asperger's syndrome, struggles to deal with her brother's horrific death at the hands of a school shooter.
So, yes. Heavy stuff, right?
Kathryn Erskyne is a master, though. Her own daughter has Asperger's, and she was able to draw from her view of the world (as well as from hours and hours of research and interviews). The book is written in first person, and we are inside the head of Caitlin who doesn't process the event the way any of the people around her do. She doesn't relate to things on an emotional level--her thought process is very logical, literal and ordered. We see everyone's emotional trauma through Caitlin's eyes. We experience the loss of death through the filter of a girl who doesn't have an emotional grasp of loss.
I think that Caitlyn's point of view is why this book works so well as a children's book. We experience events that might be too horrible to read through Caitlin's filter. The subject matter and emotional depth of the writing is incredibly poignant, but the reader is allowed a little bit of distance through which to process everything.
And, ultimately the story is one of hope, closure, love and loss--with a little humor thrown in.