Sunday, January 9, 2011

Book Musings: Mockingbird


Time to outline the bullet points I use for judging a book with disabled characters:

1. Is the disability the only point of the book. Which is to say: is Dealing With Disability the sole reason the book exists? Is it the entire concept, rather than a part of the concept?

In this case, no. Erskine does a very good job of creating a plot and character independent of Caitlin's Asperger's. Her brother died in a school shooting inspired by the Virgina Tech shooting. Any child would be lost and confused after this, so her disability becomes another layer to her experience, rather than the only thing we care about. 

2. Is the disability cured unrealistically at the end of the book? Many books with disabled characters end with everything being hunky-dory in the end, despite the main characters challenges. Mockingbird is a little guilty of this. The final scene shows Caitlin successfully attending an assembly which would have made her have a meltdown in the past, and then takes her shoes off in the grass although she is generally sensitive to touch and sensation. I thought this a little exaggerated. Caitlin has grown, and is learning to deal, but maybe this was too-much, too-fast.

3. Does the character have other important traits? Yes, yes, yes. Caitlin was a totally believable character outside of her disability. She's loving, in her way, persistent, wiling to learn new things, artistic, and very smart. Her relationship with her brother and father was wonderfully realistic. I thought maybe her drawing was cliche-- how many characters on the autism spectrum are depicted as artists-- but her other endeavours rounded this out nicely. 

4. What nitpicks do I have that a typical person wouldn't? I've grown up in the disability community. Books meant to introduce typical people to the disabled often irk me for illogical reasons. My sister has an Asperger's diagnosis, and we know a lot of people with autism. I've begun to feel that in literature they are all portrayed in a Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime way. Unfair, of course, because Mockingbird was meant for an entirely different audience, but I'd like to see some variation. The classic symptoms are shown here very well, but of course there are other manifestations.

Also, the authors note at the end of the book seemed entirely unnecessary. I had to skim it, or else have the book ruined. It did the "many children have Asperger's, and I believe in early intervention" thing I applauded the novel for NOT doing. I mention it because, like it or not, it's a part of the book and I feel diminishes the overall effect. 

But, in general, I enjoyed the book very much and approved of the depiction of Caitlin's disability. 


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