Kathryn Erskine, the author of Mockingbird, her 2010 National Book Award winning middle grade novel, raises a question in her author's note at the end. She wonders if catastrophic events, such as the Virginia Tech shootings that inspired Mockingbird, can be prevented. Erskine states, "I believe strongly in early intervention, no matter what the disability." This question also pertains to her main character, Caitlin, who has Aspergers syndrome.
Mockingbird has been a controversial novel, as can be seen in the detailed review in the School Library Journal in October of 2010, and in the diversity of comments following it. Some have found Erskine's novel too ambitious, as it deals with the therapy of Caitlin, her brother's death in a school shooting, and a community's response to that shooting. The author also draws parallels between Caitlin's family and the family in To Kill a Mockingbird. Some have not found that to be too ambitious. Some reviewers find the first person voice of Caitlin believable. Others disagree.
I find her voice believable, that there might be a girl like Caitlin. The book was enriched by her humor, based on her concrete interpretation of words such as "closure", that she understands has something to do with getting over her brother's death during a school shooting. Her first person point of view fascinated me as a writer. It provoked questions. What might it be like to have Aspergers? How successful is therapy in deepening emotional attachments over time as demonstrated in this book? What are the nature of those attachments and the range of disability? Interestingly, we are shown her grief in response to her brother's death in contrast to her father's "normal" response.
Violence is a public health issue in America. Though children with Aspergers can be taught important skills, can children who become shooters be identified and their problems addressed? Erskine reminds us that the word ignore is derived from the same root as ignorance. What if we as a society were willing to take prevention more seriously?
Readers will have to decide for themselves if reading Mockingbird was provocative. To me, it was.
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