Review first published 20/05/12
11-year-old Caitlin has Asperger’s syndrome, and has always had her older brother, Devon, to explain the confusing things around her. But when Devon is killed in a tragic school shooting, Caitlin has to try and make sense of the world without him. With her dad spending most of his time crying in the shower, and her life at school becoming increasingly difficult, it doesn’t seem like things will ever get better again.
This was an impulse purchase during the Amazon Easter Sale for £0.99. I have to say from the off that not only was it a steal, but I was glad to have followed my gut instinct to buy this book.
Told from Caitlin’s perspective, the reader is given two storylines that are sensitively handled – that of Caitlin trying to make sense of the world and her attempts to integrate on the advent of her switch from elementary school to middle school along with the storyline of a family and a community trying to come to terms of the aftermath of the shooting incident.
I really got a feeling that the author wants the reader to get into the head of Caitlin’s character, not only in the way that some of her behaviours are physically described, but also in the way that the grammar of the book is used in different ways to help you understand how she thinks. This is done by using words that are partially in lower case and upper case to emphasise how words sound (Caitlin regularly reads the dictionary as a way of finding out about words that she hasn’t come across before), using phrases in a proper style such as “Get It” and “Look At The Person”, and rather than using speech quotation marks, the author adopts the style of writing discussion and character interaction in italics.
Although the book is written from the point of view of somebody with Asperger’s Syndrome, I felt that the main focus of the story is one that should be accessible to any person and that is how we deal with death – however it comes. Some people, like Caitlin, seek to emulate the person that has gone or honour them in some way. (Caitlin tries to do this in two ways, by embracing the nickname that her brother gave to her from a character in “To Kill A Mockingbird”, which is the inspiration for the title of this book, and seeking to complete his Eagle Scout project). Other people try isolate themselves and forget the things that a person has achieved in life (as in the case of Devon and Caitlin’s father). The fact that the book uses Caitlin’s precise nature as a frame for this story serves to emphasise that need for closure after the death of a loved one.
I found this to be a beautifully written novel which engages the reader emotionally and handles its subject matter sensitively. You don’t feel sorry for Caitlin’s character as she is a character who radiates hope and innocence. That said, I am not ashamed to admit that I nearly cried at several points of this book, for differing reasons as you are taken alongside Caitlin in the grieving process.
This book is a real page turner (I completed it in three days) and I highly recommend this book to people of any age. With luck and bearing in mind that there’s still half a year to go, this will hopefully stay in as a book in my personal Top Ten for this year.
Basically, if you get the opportunity, buy this book.