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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mockingbird, written by Kathryn Erskine. Philomel, Penguin. 2010. $8.50 ages 10 and up

"At home I go to my hidey-hole
in Devon's room. I take his piece
of notebook paper with me. The
one that says EAGLE SCOUT
PROJECT. The one with the list
of supplies for his chest. The one
that says he's going to teach me.
I stare at the list trying to find 
Closure. I keep hoping that
somehow the Devon-ness of the
list will give me the answer but it doesn't."

Did you ever just hug a book when you finished reading it? I just did. I love books, and many have had a powerful impact on me. Is it the day? Is it the mood? Is it that it speaks to you at this particular time in your life? I don't know and frankly, I don't really mind the not knowing. To say this book had an impact is an understatement. One minute I was laughing out loud and the next I was crying. It might be the day,  the mood I am in, or it might be that that I just finished reading a book I LOVED...and I think you should read it, too!

If it doesn't squeeze your heart and make your throat ache, I will be surprised. If you don't want to call it a 10 and put it on your 'keeper' shelf, then it didn't affect you in the same way that it did me. But, I still think you should read it!

I'll set the scene. Caitlin is in fifth grade, her mother is dead (a victim of cancer), her beloved brother has been killed in a school shooting, her father is devastated by the loss and she is dealing with the black and white world of a child with Asperger's syndrome. Her understanding of the world in its most literal terms is clearly drawn and packed with emotion, as Caitlin struggles for Closure, for Finesse and with trying to make friends. Her older brother Devon was her guide through the many struggles...and now he is gone. She must face the confusion of the world on her own; with a little help from some new friends.

Mrs. Brook is a wise, focused and incredibly supportive counselor who works to help Caitlin Get It. At 'recess for the little kids' she meets Michael, a six-year old student at her school who is also in need of closure, for his mother was one of the school shooting victims as well. Michael's innocence and unwitting support help Caitlin when she most needs someone. She is able to tell Michael about herself and what she is feeling:

"I wear sweatpants and a long-sleeved T-shirt every day. Except in summer. Then my sweatpants and T-shirts are short sleeved. The T-shirt can be any color. I don't care as long as it's not yellow or gold or mossy green or pukey green or poopy green - That makes Michael start giggling - or any kind of pink because those colors make me feel sick. And it can only be one color because I don't like colors running into each other. And there can't be writing on the T-shirt or people will read it and I don't want them looking at me. And the long-sleeve T-shirts can't have scratchy cuffs. And none of the T-shirts can have tags in the back or collars. Or stripes. Or pockets. Or zigzag stitching. Or double stitching. Now my Dad knows and he says I'm such a breeze to buy for."

She realizes that both she and her father need to find some level of peace with what happened on The Day Our Life Fell Apart, and she searches to find a way to bring Closure for them. She understands that it is important. When she finally decides what they need to do, she must convince her father. It takes patience and persistence:

"You have to Work At It . . . ," Caitlin tells her father. "You have to try even if it's hard and you think you can never do it and you just want to scream and hide and shake your hands over and over and over."

We care about Caitlin and her struggles with the world that is hers. That is the work of this perceptive and beautifully written make us care so much it hurts and then to exult in the big and little successes. Kathryn Erskine gives us a character who is so alive, so guileless and so memorable. She is an unforgettable narrator. This is a book to be savored.

Now, I am off to order a copy of Quaking (Penguin, 2007). I love when one book by a unknown (to me) author leads me to another.

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