A high school shooting has left a small American town devastated. Caitlin’s brother Devon was one of victims of the tragedy. In addition to coming to terms with the death of her beloved brother, Caitlin must understand her father’s response to the loss and grapple with the well-meaning efforts of various teachers, relatives and counsellors.
Caitlin has Asperger’s Syndrome, and the world around her can often seem like a minefield of discrepancies and ambiguities. She just wishes people could be more like books – where the words and pictures stay the same, no how many times you open and close the cover.
Mockingbird follows Caitlin on her journey towards finding ‘Closure’ – as she works first to decipher the concept and then to figure out her route. It is a road littered with challenges – the need to ‘read’ visual clues and facial expressions, comprehend what is acceptable and appropriate, make sense of idioms and understand all the complexities of human behaviour. And the one person who used to help Caitlin make sense of the world is the one she must now live without.
Although there has been something of a surge of children’s books featuring characters with Asperger’s Syndrome, this is still a condition about which many of us have limited knowledge - and our knowledge may be skewed by stereotypes and misconceptions. This is a book which definitely brings insight and understanding, and through an accessible and convincing voice. Erskine writes with sensitivity and humour, and aptly illustrates that people with Asperger’s can learn to play by the confusing rules and conventions of society, even if they don’t fully understand them.
In getting to know Caitlin, one may at times question how much it is she who should change and how much society. As Devon apparently used to point out to his sister, there is a lot to be said for the logical and honest nature of the Asperger’s mind: 'Devon said his favourite part in To Kill a Mockingbird is where Scout talks to the crowd of men and makes them go away. All she says is hi and that she knows their kids from school. Then all the angry men leave. I don’t Get It. But Devon says that’s exactly what I’m like because I say stuff that’s obvious and people go Oh, and it makes them think.