MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine

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Devon’s Eagle Scout project, a large wooden chest he was building with his father, sits in the corner of the living room covered with a sheet.  Caitlin fears it will never be finished now that Devon is gone, one of the three victims of the Virginia Dare Middle School shooting.  Caitlin’s father hasn’t smiled since the tragedy, and she can often hear him crying.  Mrs. Brook, the counselor at James Madison Elementary School, tries to encourage Caitlin to talk about what she is feeling, but Caitlin doesn’t know what she is feeling.  She has Asperger’s and doesn’t always understand emotions–either other people’s or her own.  But at Mrs. Brook’s prompting, Caitlin tries to “work at” understanding emotions and to develop empathy so that she can make friends.  And when she learns that there is something called Closure which might give the tragedy an “emotional conclusion” for herself, her father, and her new friend, Michael, she is determined to figure out how to get it.

This is one of those books that other people might describe as depressing but that I see it as uplifting–sad and tragic, but heartwarming in the end.  The focus of the story is on families and friendships and dealing with loss as a community.  For Caitlin, the journey toward Closure is closely tied to her efforts to build friendships.  Despite the tragedy that set the plot in motion, there is a lot of love and hope in this story.  School Library Journal recommends Mockingbird for 4th-6th graders.  I think older middle schoolers and possibly high schoolers would enjoy it as well.  It is a very complex story and the themes of friendships, family, and coping with loss will be relevant to teens and even adults.

If you liked Mockingbird, you might like Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper and Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

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