Full disclosure: other than YALSA’s awards, I tend not to read award winners. I have no particular reason for not doing so. I don’t care if I’m seen as a bandwagon reader (though it is for that reason alone I am not reading the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy…oh, please, you know you’ve read the free excerpt on Amazon), and I don’t care if I’m seeing reading “beneath my level”. I’m so far behind “what’s cool”, I didn’t start reading Harry Potter until the 7th book was released. Yeah. The book was literally written for kids like me, at my exact age, and I ignored them completely. No reason.
But I am truly glad that I finally got around to reading the winner of the 2010 National Book Award for Young People, Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. The book follows a couple storylines: the aftermath of a school shooting (and death of 2 students and a teacher), and autism (of the main character). Each of these are books in and of themselves, but the combining of them creates an emotional and trying story to read. Fifth grade Caitlin is trying to deal with the death of her brother, the mental retreat of her father, and her autism (though she refuses to accept the title as it applies to her). Because Caitlin is autistic, the book, told from her perspective, is an easy and somewhat obvious read. (Then again, it is shelved in the Juvenile section, and was written for elementary and middle school aged youth…)
Following Caitlin’s growth was painful at times, because the reader could see instantly that what she did or said was so, so incorrect, or was going to be very misconstrued. But we had to watch anyway, and hope she learned. Most of the times she did not. But those rare moments when she did were so wonderful. Reading this book gave me much more appreciation for the people who dedicate their lives to working with and/or raising children with special needs. How frustrating, yet fulfilling it must be.
I recommend this book to teens, children, and adults. It can be a casual read, or an attitude-adjustment read. Either way, it will be a book you remember.