Unbeknownst to me, I picked up two Young Adult books recently in which the main character has Asperger’s Syndrome: the National Book Award Winner Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine and Mindblind by Jennifer Roy, the award winning author of Yellow Star. Since I’m in the middle of the latter book, I’ll talk about Mockingbird. (By the way, I must mention Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, another marvelous book on the subject.)
Twleve year old Caitlin has to deal with the death of her mother from cancer two years earlier and the recent middle school shooting death of her older brother Devon. It’s a lot to contend with even if you don’t have Asperger’s. While her father understands her, he must deal with his grief, and is unable to translate that to Caitlin. It was Devon who really understood her and explained the world to her. While an element of Mindblind and Marcelo deals with a parent who doesn’t understand the idiosyncracies of his (it seems to be the plight of the father) older Asperger’s child, Erskine in her Author’s Note, explains the need to understand each human’s potential and limitations, and rather than dwelling on the conflict of misunderstanding, would rather dwell on the concept of understanding and early intervention. And she does an excellent job of it.
Caitlin’s special nature comes through loud and clear; her drawing ability, her affinity for dictionaries and the meanings of words, the comfort she feels when she puts her head under the couch cushions to feel closer to those people who sat on it. Erskine doesn’t downplay the socialization difficulties Asperger children have because of their unique nature. What you come away with after reading Mockingbird is a real sense of who Caitlin is–she is a real person and you want to get to know her, to be her friend. There is a love and warmth that emanates from Erskine’s writing…you get the feeling she really loves Caitlin, not an emotion you often get when reading a book.
I had picked up Mockingbird back in mid-September and put it down within a chapter. I guess I wasn’t ready for the book. This time, I read the book in one day; that’s how much I liked it. Mockingbird is a book for all age groups. It is beautifully written, tender and informative as well. It is worthy of its award (not something I can say about every award winner).