Strong voice, sad story: Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Let's talk about voice. The voice of the main character is probably the key difference between a middle grade novel and a YA novel (YA means Young Adult). As the tastes of the readers gets more mature, it seems, the voice of the narration gets stronger and edgier. Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine is right on the line between a middle grade book and a YA book.
Mockingbird has a very strong, almost hard to understand voice. But the character is only about 10. As I was reading, I was wondering, is this book right for 5th graders or 8th graders? I'm still not sure. Perhaps it's for mature 5th graders or open-minded 8th graders. Or anyone who likes a gut-wrenching story.
Caitlin, the main character, has a different voice. The voice of Asberger Syndrome. Asberger Syndrome is a disorder that creates difficulties in socializaton... meaning kids with Asberger don't make friends the way most others do. Another issue of Asberger's... difficulty with language. So choosing to write a novel in the voice of someone with Asberger Syndrome is like asking the audience to be confused much of the time.
That's why Mockingbird is difficult to get into. But it's worth it to keep going till you get into the pattern of the narration.
The story is sad. Very sad. Caitlin's only pal is (was) her older brother. He has been killed in a school shooting before the story opens. (Luckily we are spared that scene!) Her dad, riddled with grief, is emotionally absent. The mom has died long before. So Caitln is alone in the world, a world she finds painfully difficult to understand.
As we read along we slowly learn to understand the world through Caitlin's eyes. We see her struggling to grow and interact with people. We see her needing to take a break and hid under furniture. We realize that people like Caitlin who are different than us still have emotions and needs. They still love and even though they don't seem to be learning much, they still strive to learn and grow.
This is an ambitioius story... it could have been powerful enough if it were just about a girl with Asberger Syndrome, or just about a girl struggling to deal with a school shooting. But both? Mockingbird is an emotional whallop. If you read it, be ready to feel it in your gut.
Below you can watch the trailer for this book... the trailer isn't very informative and because it is dominated by the music track, in my mind doesn't really reflect the experience of reading the book. But go ahead, watch. Then read the book and see if you agree.