Sunday, July 14, 2013


by Katherine Erskine
2010 / 235 pages                  

The subtitle underneath the (uncapitalized) title of this novel is the dictionary pronunciation of the same word. Why?

Because the protagonist of the story, ten-year-old Caitlin, is living with Asperger's syndrome, as a result of which everything in her world has to be black and white, on or off. Caitlin, a gifted artist, doesn't like drawing in colour, takes instructions (very) literally, and finds it very difficult to express emotion herself or read others' emotions - and so prefers to get her understanding of life from encyclopedias and dictionaries (including the pronunciation). I've had students like that myself, who do very well at the right kind of work and with the right kind of guidance.

Caitlin has also done well for most of her life, with the guidance of her older brother Devon, but when she loses him on "The Day Our Life Fell Apart," as she calls it, she struggles to find her way through life without him to explain what it all means and how to react to life's pitfalls.

So why is the novel called mockingbird?  The title points to one of Caitlin's sources of inspiration as she wrestles with life without her older brother's help. She and Devon loved the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird, and several ideas from the movie pop up repeatedly in the novel: walking around in someone else's shoes and the parental command not to kill a mockingbird - both figures of speech, which makes it difficult for Caitlin to "Get It."

But "Get It" she does, finding closure - an "emotional conclusion to a difficult life event." At first she does not really understand the definition she has looked up, but with the help of her school counselor, she learns how to make friends, how to feel what others feel, and how to deal with what happened to Devon. Her introduction to the gray areas of life also bring colour into her own life - perhaps even into her own drawing.

A novel that will bring a renewed appreciation of both the difficulty and the importance of  learning to "[r]ejoice with those who rejoice" and [w]eep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15), mockingbird is not a specifically Christian story, but it does remind us of how much greater should be our love within and from the communion of saints. In many ways, God must also be patient with us, until, by the gracious work of His Spirit, we finally "Get It" - until the final coming of the Son brings true closure to this world cursed by sin.

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