Bookshop bookseller, Kat, made a new year’s resolution to read all of the current National Book Award winners and write about them on Bookblog Santa Cruz. Here is her review of Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine, winner of the award for Young People’s Literature, which is now available in paperback. Don’t miss her previous post: a review of the Nonfiction winner, Just Kids by Patti Smith.
The premise of Mockingbird is undeniably grim. Our protagonist, ten-year-old Caitlin, has just suffered a tremendous loss: her older brother, Devon, has been killed in a shooting at his school. Caitlin now lives alone with her stricken father, who is barely holding it together, and her own grief is complicated by the fact that she has Asperger’s Syndrome. Even on good days, Caitlin finds it impossible to relate to her classmates, her teachers, the well-meaning and sympathetic public, or anyone, really. Except for her brother.
It is Caitlin’s patient and kind guidance counselor who first introduces her to the concept of Closure. Because Caitlin tends to take the world literally, she believes that Closure is something that should be capitalized, something tangible that she needs to search for and bring home to her father. She looks it up in her much-beloved dictionary, which doesn’t clarify much. The adults she goes to for help are equally mystified, because who, after all, can really explain what Closure is, much less where to find it? In searching for this enigmatic concept, Caitlin comes to understand that sometimes the dictionary definition doesn’t quite take us far enough. Sometimes, we have to wrestle with something before we can begin to understand it.
As I read Mockingbird, I was reminded of another book I recently read and loved, Room by Emma Donoghue, which is narrated by a five-year-old boy. Both Erskine and Donoghue use characters with deceptively simple voices to tell enormous, heart-breaking stories. Caitlin is a fascinating and lovable narrator, and her struggles with grief will ultimately be familiar to anyone who has ever lost a loved one. I couldn’t stop reading this book, couldn’t stop thinking about Caitlin and her lovely but sometimes frustrating take on the world. A beautiful read for just about all ages.