September 26, 2011

Mockingbird: Guest Review

I'm happy to welcome Ashley from Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing back to the blog, for another Psychtember guest review! She's sharing her reaction to Mockingbird.

The young protagonist of Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird is Caitlin, an 11 year old girl with Asperger's Syndrome. Caitlin views the world in a strong dichotomy of yes or no, black and white and her world view really allows for no grey area. She has always relied on her older brother to help her understand the world. When he suddenly dies Caitlin is left feeling adrift. She's lost her compass and has no idea what to do or how to feel. After reading about closure in her dictionary, she tries to find some. 

Disorders on the Autism Spectrum (including Asperger's) are incredibly complex, unique and varied and they are also something that, try as we might, we don't have much understanding of. We can try to learn more about the individuals who have a disorder, but really, our knowledge and understanding is always going to be limited. And it's going to be different for every single person. 

Because of that, I always have a hard time judging whether or not a book that has an character or narrator on the Autism Spectrum is realistic or accurate. Because I can't know for sure. All I can say is whether or not I found it to be authentic or believable. And in this book, I found myself fully inside Caitlin's mind, struggling with her as she tried to relearn how to be when her whole world has ruptured and she's lost the one person who used to be able to reach her. She was so lost and so confused through much of the book and my heart really went out to her. Especially because she doesn't understand things in the same way that everyone else does and she doesn't really know how to communicate or relate to people on a the same level as someone with a 'normal' development pattern. 

I'll admit that it's been a while since I read this book and some of the specifics and details aren't as clear as they would have been if I'd read it more recently, but what I do still have are the impressions and feelings I got reading the book. And the emotional memories tell me, that no matter the flaws this book may have, it is a book worth reading, especially if you are interested in reading books that deal with mental illness. I think it's an important addition and I love that it's written for a middle grade audience. That's an age group I think it's really important to teach empathy to, and empathy is a huge part of Caitlin's learning process. 

I will say that the book had a tendency to get on the preachy side. There's an entire part of the story that is devoted to the tragic way her brother was killed. And the book is really short. It's a quick read, and I just thought that having an entire portion of the book devoted to the tragedy as a whole was too much when we were also supposed to be focusing on Caitlin and I couldn't quite decide if Erskine wanted to write a 'tragedy' book or a 'mental health' book. If the book had been longer, it could have worked. But trying to give proper attention to both things doesn't work as well in a novel of this size and complexity. 

However, I don't think that should deter anyone from reading this book. It's definitely a book I would recommend to people wanting another perspective in trying to understand the Autism Spectrum and you might be surprised by how much a little girl who doesn't really understand much about feelings can make you feel.

Ashley has been fascinated by the mind since before she can remember and decided long before college that Psychology would be her field of study. She received a BS in Psychology and is currently deciding where it should take her next. Ashley would like it to be made clear that she is not an expert in the field, and that the thoughts and feelings expressed are hers derived from both academic and personal study and experience.  

Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts on Mockingbird, Ashley! 

Readers — have you read this one? What did you think of how it portrays Asperger's Syndrome?


  1. I just got back from a writing conference where the editor used this book to demonstrate techniques for heightening emotion in stories - amazing! She said the author has a child with Asperger's, which helps explain how she so accurately portrayed Caitlyn.

  2. I have not heard of this one, I will have to go look it up. I think it would be interesting to read something that deals with asperger's syndrome.

  3. Great review. I also reviewed this Mockingbird on my blog, it was well received by my readers. I thought it was an interesting story and definitely felt that it gave me a new perspective on life from a different point of view. I'm a new follower here! Glad I stopped by! ~ Jess


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