4.5 293
by Kathryn Erskine

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Caitlin has Asperger's. The world according to her is black and white; anything in between is confusing. Before, when things got confusing, Caitlin went to her older brother, Devon, for help. But Devon was killed in a school shooting, and Caitlin's dad is so…  See more details below



Caitlin has Asperger's. The world according to her is black and white; anything in between is confusing. Before, when things got confusing, Caitlin went to her older brother, Devon, for help. But Devon was killed in a school shooting, and Caitlin's dad is so distraught that he is just not helpful. Caitlin wants everything to go back to the way things were, but she doesn't know how to do that. Then she comes across the word closure--and she realizes this is what she needs. And in her search for it, Caitlin discovers that the world may not be so black and white after all.

"Powerful."--Publishers Weekly

"A strong and complex character study."--The Horn Book

"Allusions to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the portrayal of a whole community's healing process, and the sharp insights into Caitlyn's behavior enhance this fine addition to the recent group of books with narrators with autism and Asbergers."--Booklist

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ten-year-old Caitlin Smith has Asperger's syndrome, which is why she is processing a horrific event differently than everyone else in her small Virginia town. As the result of a school shooting, her beloved brother, Devon, and two others are dead. Caitlin's mother is also dead, lost to cancer when Caitlin was just three. She addresses these losses matter-of-factly; her lack of tact is especially hard on her father, a kind man who is falling apart. Over the course of the story, Caitlin, who like many with Asperger's has incredible brainpower but few social skills, must learn empathy. She narrates—a risky choice that mostly works. Her Amelia Bedelia-like misunderstandings of figurative language provide much needed moments of levity, and her extreme conscientiousness is endearing. Erskine (Quaking) works in powerful imagery throughout—Devon's unfinished Eagle Scout project was a wooden chest, and for Caitlin, it's entwined with the irreparable bullet wound in Devon's chest. Although an author's note links the novel with the 2007 tragedy at Virginia Tech, this novel is not about violence as much as about the ways in which a wounded community heals. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
This heartbreaking story is delivered in the straightforward, often funny voice of a fifth-grade girl with Asperger's syndrome, who is frustrated by her inability to put herself in someone else's shoes. Caitlin's counselor, Mrs. Brook, tries to teach her how to empathize, but Caitlin is used to depending on her big brother Devon for guidance on such matters. Tragically, Devon has been killed in a school shooting. Caitlin, her dad and her schoolmates try to cope, and it is the deep grief they all share that ultimately helps Caitlin get to empathy. As readers celebrate this milestone with Caitlin, they realize that they too have been developing empathy by walking a while in her shoes, experiencing the distinctive way that she sees and interacts with the world. Erskine draws directly and indirectly on To Kill a Mockingbird and riffs on its central theme: The destruction of an innocent is perhaps both the deepest kind of psychosocial wound a community can face and its greatest opportunity for psychological and spiritual growth. (Fiction. 8-12)
From the Publisher

"[A] fine addition to the recent group of books with autistic narrators." —Booklist"A strong and complex character study." —Horn Book"This heartbreaking story is delivered in the straightforward, often funny voice of a fifth-grade girl with Asperger's Syndrome." —Kirkus, starred review"This is...a valuable book." —School Library Journal"Erskine works in powerful imagery throughout." —Publishers Weekly, starred review"Fascinating characters." —Los Angeles Times

[A] fine addition to the recent group of books with autistic narrators.
Horn Book
A strong and complex character study.
Los Angeles Times
Fascinating characters.
VOYA - Leah Sparks
Ten-year-old Caitlin has Asperger's syndrome, a developmental disorder that makes it difficult for her to socialize and communicate effectively with others. Unable to accurately read others' emotions through their behavior and body language, she relies on a facial expressions chart and the guidance of her older brother Devon to navigate social situations. As the novel opens, Caitlin and her father are dealing with the aftermath of Devon's death in a random school shooting. Although she misses her brother's advice and wishes life could be as it was, Caitlin is unable to understand her father's grief—that is, until she reads the word "closure" in her beloved dictionary and decides that this is what she and her father need. Author Kathryn Erskine (Quaking, Philomel, 2007, YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers) was inspired to write Mockingbird by the shootings at nearby Virginia Tech University in 2007. She wisely chose to have Caitlin narrate her own story, saving it from becoming too didactic or sentimental. Although teens may not initially understand Caitlin's seemingly unemotional acceptance of tragedy and her literal interpretation of events, they will soon become caught up in her search for closure and cheer for her as she discovers herself capable of friendship, love, and empathy. A good choice for supplementary reading in a high school psychology class, Mockingbird will also appeal to book groups for middle and high schoolers; siblings and friends of young people with Asperger's and other developmental disorders; and middle school students who enjoy thoughtful characters and a good story. Reviewer: Leah Sparks
Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
Virginia author Kathryn Erskine takes the reader into the world of Caitlin, a girl with Asperger's syndrome, as she struggles to understand the death of her older brother. Caitlin finds it much easier to "read" dictionaries than people; and in the course of regular meetings with her school counselor, she tries to learn social skills that will enable her to connect with others. She also wants to help her grieving father and the community to achieve "Closure" in the aftermath of the school shooting that took her brother's life. In Erskine's capable hands, Caitlin emerges as a wholly believable, admirable hero as she forges a unique path to friendship and healing. A lovely, important book. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Ten-year-old Caitlyn seeks closure. She's not entirely sure what closure is, but she knows that it will help her come to grips with the death of her big brother Devon. And she's not the only one who needs it—the school shooting that claimed Devon's life has plunged her entire town into a morass of sorrow and confusion. But Caitlyn has Asperger's syndrome. She experiences the behavior of others as a series of unrelated vignettes whose meaning she must puzzle out. While she has some tools for solving these puzzles—the facial expressions chart in the counselor's office helps—her best guide has always been Devon. Caitlyn's extremely literal interpretations, unbiased reactions, and open-hearted attempts at friendship and empathy help those around her gain fresh perspectives. Devon always knew this about her, which is why he called her Scout, after the character in To Kill a Mockingbird. Caitlyn's errors and successes at parsing her world invite discussion and reflection. Although it can be difficult to distinguish between Caitlyn's thoughts and her dialogue when listening to this book by Kathryn Erskine (Philomel, 2010), Angela Jayne Rogers's unadorned narration is poignant and forthright, making this title ideal for a group read/listen.—Paula Willey, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

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Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Sales rank:
630L (what's this?)
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

It looks like a one-winged bird crouching in the corner of our living room. Hurt. Trying to fly every time the heat pump turns on with a click and a groan and blows cold air onto the sheet and lifts it up and it fl utters for just a moment and then falls down again. Still. Dead. Dad covered it with the grey sheet so I can’t see it, but I know it’s there. And I can still draw it. I take my charcoal pencil and copy what I see. A greyish squarish thing that’s almost as tall as me. With only one wing. Underneath the sheet is Devon’s Eagle Scout project. It’s the chest Dad and Devon are making so he’ll be ready to teach other Boy Scouts how to build a chest. I feel all around the sheet just to be sure his chest is underneath. It’s cold and hard and stiff on the outside and cavernous on the inside. My Dictionary says cavernous means filled with cavities or hollow areas. That’s what’s on the inside of Devon’s chest. Hollow areas. On the outside is the part that looks like the bird’s broken wing because the sheet hangs off it loosely. Under the sheet is a piece of wood that’s going to be the door once Dad and Devon fi nish the chest. Except now I don’t know how they can. Now that Devon is gone. The bird will be trying to fly but never getting anywhere. Just floating and falling. Floating and falling. Th e grey of outside is inside. Inside the living room. Inside the chest. Inside me. It’s so grey that turning on a lamp is too sharp and it hurts. So the lamps are off . But it’s still too bright. It should be black inside and that’s what I want so I put my head under the sofa cushion where the green plaid fabric smells like Dad’s sweat and Devon’s socks and my popcorn and the cushion feels soft and heavy on my head and I push deeper so my shoulders and chest can get under it too and there’s a weight on me that holds me down and keeps me from floating and falling and floating and falling like the bird. Caitlin, Dad says. The whole town is upset by what happened. They want to help. How? They want to be with you. Talk to you. Take you places. I don’t want to be with them or talk to them or go places with them. He sighs. They want to help you deal with life, Caitlin… without Devon. I don’t know what this means but the people come to our house. I wish I could hide in Devon’s room but I’m not allowed in there now. Not since The Day Our Life Fell Apart and Dad slammed Devon’s door shut and put his head against it and cried and said, No no no no no. So I can’t go to my hidey-hole in Devon’s room anymore and I miss it. I try to hide in my room and draw but Dad comes and gets me. There are so many voices in our house. Voices from Devon’s Boy Scout troop. I recognize their green shorts. And the nice things they say about Devon. Voices of relatives. Dad introduces me to them. He says, You remember…and then he says a name. I say, No, because I don’t remember. Dad says to Look At The Person so I look quickly at a nose or a mouth or an ear but I still don’t remember. One voice says, I’m your second cousin. Another says, Wasn’t it a beautiful memorial service? Another says, I love your drawings. You’re a very talented artist. Will you draw something for me? One even says, Aren’t you lucky to have so many relatives? I don’t feel lucky but they keep coming. Relatives we hardly saw when Devon was here so how can they help? Neighbours like the man who yelled at Devon to get off his lawn. How can he help? People from school. Mrs. Brook my counsellor. Miss Harper the principal. All my teachers since kindergarten except my real fifth-grade teacher because she left after what happened at Devon’s school. I don’t Get It because nothing bad happened at James Madison Elementary School so why did she have to leave? Now Mrs. Johnson is my teacher. She didn’t even know Devon except shewatched him play basketball, she says. Twice. I’ve watched the LA Lakers play more than twice. I don’t try to help them. Caitlin. If you ever want to talk about what happened you just let me know, Mrs. Johnson says. That’s what Mrs. Brook is for, I tell her. Maybe we could all sit down together. Why? So we know where you’re coming from. I look around the living room and stare at the sheet covered chest. I come from here. I’m sorry. I meant so we all know how you’re feeling. Oh. Mrs. Brook knows how I’m feeling so you can find out from her. I would be superfl uous. My Dictionary says suPERfluous means exceeding what is sufficient or necessary. I just thought it would be nice to take some time to sit and chat. I shake my head. SuPERfl uous also means marked by wastefulness. Well…okay then, she says. I suppose I can talk with Mrs. Brook. Mrs. Brook says you can talk with her anytime because her door is always open, I tell Mrs. Johnson. Actually it’s almost always closed.But if you knock then she remembers to open it. Thank you, Caitlin. She doesn’t move. This means she is waiting for me to say something. I hate that. It makes my underarms prickle and get wet. I almost start sucking my sleeve like I do at recess but then I remember. You’re welcome, I say. She moves away. I got it right! I go to the refrigerator and put a smiley face sticker on my chart under YOUR MANNERS.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher


"[A] fine addition to the recent group of books with autistic narrators." --Booklist "A strong and complex character study." --Horn Book "This heartbreaking story is delivered in the straightforward, often funny voice of a fifth-grade girl with Asperger's Syndrome." --Kirkus, starred review "This is...a valuable book." --School Library Journal "Erskine works in powerful imagery throughout." --Publishers Weekly, starred review

Meet the Author

Kathryn Erskine spent many years as a lawyer before realizing that she’d rather write things that people might actually enjoy reading. She grew up mostly overseas and attended eight different schools, her favorite being the Hogwarts-type castle in Scotland. The faculty, of course, did not consist of wizards, although . . . how did the headmistress know that it was “the wee redhead” who led the campaign to free the mice from the biology lab? Erskine draws on her childhood—and her second childhood through her children—for her stories. She still loves to travel but nowadays most trips tend to be local, such as basketball and tennis courts, occasional emergency room visits, and the natural food store for very healthy organic chocolate with “life saving” flavonoids.

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