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Firechick's Book Reviews: Mockingbird

This is my first time reviewing an actual book, not an anime or manga. And my rating system for this will be different from my systems for anime and manga.

I give Mockingbird 4.9 mockingbirds out of 5!

Just so you guys all know, I don't like JUST anime and manga. I like normal stuff too, like video games and books. My favorite types of books are mostly 19th century children's classics like Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, Little Women, etc. But one day I was surprised to find a book about a little autistic girl. Seeing as I myself have Asperger Syndrome I got interested. I mostly came across it on Wikipedia and, feeling curious, I looked it up on Amazon. I was surprised to see that it came out in March of 2010, and I didn't know of it's existence until about a month or two later! I had planned on getting it at the library but on pure compulsion I got it at Borders...and boy am I glad I own this book! Right when I laid eyes on it I couldn't get out! I read the entire book one hour after I got it! Last night I just finished re-reading this book for a millionth time. It's my number one favorite book of all time, totally knocking Adeline Yen Mah's Chinese Cinderella down the list!

So the story's about an innocent 10-year-old girl named Caitlin Smith who has Asperger Syndrome. She's not like the other kids, and it's not just because her mother died when she was young either. Like her disability states, she sees, feels, hears, and interprets things drastically differently from her peers. She's a very good artist but she doesn't use colors because, to her, "colors run into each other" and she "doesn't know where one begins and where one ends." She uses big words and doesn't understand modern talk (I wouldn't be surprised if she couldn't interpret street gangster talk), doesn't quite understand the concept of emotions, and is ultimately friendless...except for her brother Devon. He was Caitlin's rock. He taught her everything she knows and made sure she got through life...only to have his life taken in a school shooting. Now Caitlin's innocent world is in upheaval and she has to figure everything out on her own, without Devon by her side, which overwhelms her greatly. It also doesn't help that Caitlin's dad spends his days crying and wallowing in his own self-pity every day. But upon learning about the word "closure", Caitlin decides this is what she and her father need, so she decides to find it. But on her journey, she comes across many new things in the process and they're not as scary as she originally thought they were.

Apparently, from what I hear, there's some kind of boom in literature featuring disabled kids, but is that really so? Mockingbird's the only one I've heard of. Either I'm behind the times or just really narrow minded. But nonetheless, I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOOOOOOVE this book! Partly because I identify with this book, and with Caitlin, HARD. I've hardly read much literature about autistic people (yes, I do have a copy of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, but I never read it and don't plan on doing so), but from what I hear one stereotype that's been established about them is that temper tantrums and the inability to talk are 100% present and usually establish their presence. Another supposed stereotype is that they're all "Rain Man"-esque characters (not that I think Rain Man is bad, of course. I need to get that movie on DVD!). Thankfully, the portrayal of autism here is dead on. Absolutely perfect. The author really made sure to establish Caitlin as a person, not JUST an autistic child (and thank God she's high functioning! a degree). Sure she does throw a couple of TRMs (Tantrum Rage Meltdowns, as her dad calls it), but they're very brief so that's a plus. Plus the chapters are VERY short (sometimes just one page long!) so that's another plus!

Since this book is about Caitlin, I'll go on a paragraph stampede on her! She's one of the best main characters in a book I've ever seen. So much of what she does and experiences is all stuff that I did and went through when I was young. She and I have a lot in common, though it's mostly in the small details. She doesn't like making eye contact (Who wouldn't? Though for me it's for a very different reason all together), she hates mixing food together, she's very good at drawing and loves it (I do too!), she prefers cartoons over the cliche stuff (Cartoons for the win!!!), she's not very good at interpreting modern day speech (such as "what's it to you" or "when pigs fly" or "what of it?" Five bucks says she'll seriously hate the stuff the kids I was stuck with in high school say all the time!), she goes to her counselor for help or when she's frustrated (for me, it was my social worker in school. I miss her already), her actions and words are practically ALWAYS misunderstood by the people around her, and she's also not very good at making friends, though her case is worse than mine. Unlike me though, she doesn't understand the concept of emotions, sucks on her shirt sleeves when she's upset, is expected to know more than she's capable of, and her reactions to certain social situations are a bit inappropriate, but hey. Can you blame her? And sadly enough, she has great difficulty with dealing with how others perceive her or treat her (I wanted to kill one of those girls. She reminded me so much of one of the bullies I had to deal with in middle school). She doesn't quite understand why people get mad at her for doing things that they see as strange, and she doesn't understand why people think she's being rude when in actuality she's trying to be helpful (although she fails miserably at making people understand this, possibly because she doesn't word it properly). And without Devon to help her out, she has to deal with everything on her own, and she doesn't know how to deal with everything. Yes, the book refuses to shy away from the fact that Caitlin is disliked by kids in her class. At certain times you'll want to shout "Stop! Don't do that! That's not the right way to handle it!" and that's a perfectly appropriate reaction. It's easy to see why people get frustrated, yet you'll still want to cheer her on and hope she succeeds. The only thing I dislike about her is her very strange sensitivity to A LOT of clothes. I don't like certain clothes too (like shirts that are tye-dye, low rise jeans that show your navel, anything that's tight, ALL dresses, ALL skirts, REALLY short shorts, and anything that's overly promiscuous and revealing), but jeez! She's more sensitive to clothes than I am, and I don't mean that as a compliment either! And sometimes she acts a bit conceited when she thinks stuff like "I'm being a friend" or "I'm good at friendship" when it's clear she doesn't quite know the RIGHT ways to make friends. Not that I blame her, of course. Reasons to come in a later paragraph. But even so, I love this kid anyway! I just want to hold her hand and help her with anything she needs help with, just like Devon...not that I'm capable of that, of course. I also love the way she thinks and feels things. In the second chapter when people are coming to her house, she's told that the people come because they want to help her deal with life, but she doesn't understand WHY they want to help as they never did anything to help her before. I'd feel the exact same way if strange people I didn't know came to my house. I wonder if she thought they only cared about themselves and came just to feel good and eat stuff? They don't say, but I know I'd probably think that. She also wonders why a whole community would mourn for Devon when they never met him before. I'd be ticked off at that! She also seems to make people believe (unintentionally) that she still thinks Devon is still alive and that she doesn't really understand...and also doesn't quite see that people are talking to her when they want her to do something, like when a classmate tells her to chew with her mouth closed in a later chapter. I'm kinda thinking she's a little narrow minded, but can you blame her?

The other characters (other than the female bullies) were great too. One character, Josh, is the cousin of one of the school shooters who killed Devon. He's pretty much a bully and calls Caitlin a freak and a loser whenever he sees fit, but the book makes sure to show that he's not a stereotypical bully who picks on people just for the sake of it. Chapter 35 is where he truly shines. In chapter 10, Caitlin befriends a 6 year old boy named Michael whose mother was shot in Devon's middle school also. He's such a sweetie, and a great friend! I wish I had a friend like him!...but I'm afraid of little kids. Mrs. Brook is a nice person who's very patient and tries to help Caitlin whenever she can. She kinda reminds me of my social worker in a way. But I would've liked a bit more Emma though. At first I couldn't decide whether she's good or bad, and I think it's because there wasn't enough of her. I wish the author would've gone into more detail about her.

Anyway, this is where I start to get a little mean. While I am giving this book the highest score I feel is fit, I do confess that it's not perfect. No book ever is. There are a few small things in the book that are just bloody weird to me. They're small, but easy to notice. One thing I was briefly confused by is the fact that the author uses italics for when people speak instead of quotation marks. At first I was confused by it, but I got used to it quickly so that's not a bad thing. One thing that bothered me is that in some situations Caitlin doesn't seem to be able to properly clarify herself and uses the wrong words. When she sees Josh picking on another autistic kids, she keeps telling him "you shouldn't get in someone's personal space." Most people nowadays don't know what personal space is and don't get what she means, and I kind of understand why Josh mis-interpreted her accusation as something about her brother. Instead of saying "You shouldn't get in someone's personal space," she should've said "You should not have pushed William H." That would've given Josh a better idea of what she's talking about. Another thing that bothered me is Caitlin's dad, Harold. While I do understand he's grieving the loss of his son in his own way, throughout the entire book he does nothing but cry and angst and wallow in his self-pity and do absolutely nothing to help Caitlin in her own ordeal! I was especially ticked off when he took her to the fund raiser and made her talk to people she didn't know and hiss at her to say something nice. It's like he expects her to know them and compliment them and doesn't leave her alone until she does say something to them! And he gets even more mad when she says something a tad inappropriate! Even my parents know better than that! Instead of hissing at her, he should've quietly told her the right things to say to people, such as "Hi. Nice to meet you." and kindly tell her about the wrong and right ways to talk to people. Is that really so hard? I admit I'm kinda shy around new people, but my parents don't make a big deal about it and hiss at me and keep me there until I say something to someone I don't even know or like! And he doesn't even appreciate the fact that Caitlin's trying to help him too! Yeah she does some small inappropriate things, but how is she supposed to know the RIGHT way to make people understand that her brother's dead without reminding them? Nobody ever taught her! That's another thing that bothers me. I know Mrs. Brook is a nice counselor and all, but sometimes I feel she doesn't really TEACH Caitlin how to greet someone or talk to someone. She shows her some social cues and helps her to understand emotions and facial expressions, but that's it. She doesn't teach her how to say hi or to compliment someone or to start a conversation that won't make other kids feel all that freaked out by her. I had a social studies class in my elementary school that did just that! And even the characters in With The Light (my favorite manga) did that, and with great detail! I especially noticed this in chapter 30, where she DOES attempt to make friends but fails horribly. And speaking of chapter 30, Caitlin seems to know she has Aspergers but doesn't believe that she's autistic (according to her, is what William H is like, doing nothing but not talk, scream, and eat dirt). Did anyone ever teach her that Asperger's and autism are the exact same thing? Did anyone even tell her what Asperger Syndrome even is and that it's the reason why she can't understand other kids? Well, I didn't find out I was autistic until I turned 11 so I guess this is understandable, but still! Like she said, I wish people would just tell her stuff and teach her the right ways to do things instead of let her do everything on her own (and wrong for that matter). It'd be so much easier. And one more thing! In chapter 18, Mrs. Brook pairs Michael and Josh up as reading buddies despite Caitlin's protests and she tells her "part of your Plan of Healing is to make friends." Does Michael not count in her book as a friend? Sure he's younger than Caitlin, but age shouldn't matter. In my freshman year I had a friend who was a senior! And I have a friend who's soon to be a sophomore in high school!

*sigh* Sorry about that really long paragraph about all the flaws I pointed out, but they don't kill my enjoyment of the book. In fact, even with it's small flaws it's my favorite book of all time! I wish there were more books like this in the world! I wouldn't mind writing my own story about an autistic kid. But what I also love about the book is the themes it covers and the messages it tries to give out. This book covers two different stories: the trials and tribulations of a young autistic girl and the aftermath of a school shooting. It's a story about tragedy, healing, tolerance, friendship, getting into fights and making up again, understanding each other, and learning that the world's not as scary as it seems. What I also liked is Caitlin's gradual transition into using colors in her drawings. It symbolizes that she's learning and growing up and the fact that she truly has reached closure in a way she never expected. The author used two inspirations to write the book: The Virginia Tech University shooting in 2007, and her own autistic daughter (she's only mentioned in the paperback version, and I have the hardcover edition). And she sure blended these themes together wonderfully in this book.

Mockingbird is a very sweet and cute little book that I think everyone should read! A wonderful story about the human spirit. Are you human? GO READ IT NOW!!! Oh, one more thing. If you're wondering why in the 3rd paragraph I colored the word LOVE in purple? That's because purple is Caitlin's favorite color!

Tags: book, erskine, kathryn, mockingbird, review

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