Wednesday, October 20

abandoned: Mockingbird

by Katherine Erskine
Philomel / Penguin  2010

Everyone's been raving about this book.  It just got nominated from a National Book Award.  It's been on the periphery of my radar so I figured it was time to pick it up.  Twenty-five pages later it was time to put it down.

There is no worse feeling than to not like a popular book and feel, somehow, like you're defective for thinking it.  Worse if you like to think of yourself as a writer, because when you go against the grain (and then do so publicly in a place like a blog) you're almost certain to alter people's opinions of you.  Not necessarily for the better. 

Is it wrong to feel like the first-person child narrator with Aspergers is a tired trend? Is it wrong to even think of it as a trend?  Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  The London Eye mystery.  Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree. Three or four other titles I've read in the last year or so whose titles I cannot remember. 

So what's my problem anyway?  Do I not want kids to read about characters who are different then themselves, to better learn and understand about differently-abled kids and to show some respect and tolerance?  Isn't calling these stories "tired" akin to saying the same thing about vampires?

Here's the deal: when I'm reading, and there is something about the narrative that continually pulls me away from the story being told, I no longer enjoy the reading experience.  Erskine's narrator is ten year old Caitlin.  As a child with Aspergers I am willing to accept that she finds a certain disconnect with the world, with an inability to read facial expression or to know how to respond to people without taking the world literally.  What I have a hard time with is a ten year old with Aspergers being all these things and yet more articulate than any ten year old I've ever met, including highly gifted ones.  I realize this conceit is necessary to give the reader a sense of what is going on while at the same time trying to put them inside the head of main character, but on every page I kept finding myself unable to suspend the disbelief.

I'd also like to see more stories told from the perspective of the friend of a child with Aspergers (or ADHD for that matter) who don't doesn't really understand what makes their friend behave the way they do but is fine with them anyway.  Sort of like the idea of having a gay character in a story where the story isn't about the character being gay, it's just who they are.  In the long run isn't that what we want from the readers, from children, to be able to recognize these differences and not have them matter in a way that causes them to be viewed as "other" than themselves?

I am not closed to the idea of revisiting this book down the road if someone can truly convince me that I can't just read the last thirty pages of this book and feel like I missed something in the middle that I haven't seen before.
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