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Devon’s Chest

It looks like a one-winged bird crouching in the corner of our living room. Hurt. Trying to fly every time the heat pump turns on with a click and a groan and blows cold air onto the sheet and lifts it up and it flutters for just a moment and then falls down again. Still. Dead.

Dad covered it with the grey sheet so I can’t see it, but I know it’s there. And I can still draw it. I take my charcoal pencil and copy what I see. A greyish squarish thing that’s almost as tall as me. With only one wing.

Underneath the sheet is Devon’s Eagle Scout project. It’s the chest Dad and Devon are making so he’ll be ready to teach other Boy Scouts how to build a chest. I feel all around the sheet just to be sure his chest is underneath. It’s cold and hard and stiff on the outside and cavernous on the inside. My Dictionary says CAVernous means filled with cavities or hollow areas. That’s what’s on the inside of Devon’s chest. Hollow areas. On the outside is the part that looks like the bird’s broken wing because the sheet hangs off it loosely. Under the sheet is a piece of wood that’s going to be the door once Dad and Devon finish the chest. Except now I don’t know how they can. Now that Devon is gone. The bird will be trying to fly but never getting anywhere. Just floating and falling. Floating and falling.

The grey of outside is inside. Inside the living room. Inside the chest. Inside me. It’s so grey that turning on a lamp is too sharp and it hurts. So the lamps are off. But it’s still too bright. It should be black inside and that’s what I want so I put my head under the sofa cushion where the green plaid fabric smells like Dad’s sweat and Devon’s socks and my popcorn and the cushion feels soft and heavy on my head and I push deeper so my shoulders and chest can get under it too and there’s a weight on me that holds me down and keeps me from floating and falling and floating and falling like the bird.

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Caitlin misses her brother every day.

Since his death in a school shooting, she has no one to explain the world to her. And for Caitlin, the world is a confusing place. She hates it when colours get mixed up, prefers everything to be black-and-white, and needs to check her Facial Expressions Chart to understand emotions.

So when Caitlin reads the definition of "closure", she decides that's what she needs. And as she struggles to find it, a world of colour begins to enter her black-and-white life...

  • Part of the Usborne Modern Classic series: timeless stories from award-winning authors.

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Book information

Lexile Measure
Accelerated Reader level
3.6 MY
ISBN: 9781409538585
Extent: 256 pages
Dimensions: 198 x 130mm

Author information

Kathryn Erskine

Kathryn Erskine worked as a lawyer for fifteen years before realizing that her real passion lay in writing. Mockingbird, her first novel to be published in the UK, won the National Book Award in America in 2010, and garnered wide critical acclaim on its publication here in 2012.

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Kathryn Erskine on Twitter


Shortlisted for the Redbridge Children's Book Award 2013

The Redbridge Children's Book Award highlights the best new reading for children and teenagers and aims to encourage children to read, review, and debate and thus appreciate good quality literature. School librarians, library staff and children select titles from their favourite new reads. The winner is selected through a final vote.

Winner - National Book Award (US) 2010

The National Book Awards are the USA's preeminent literary prizes. The Awards are given to recognise achievements in four genres: Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry and Young People's Literature. The winners, selected by five-member, independent judging panels for each genre, receive a $10,000 cash prize. Mockingbird was the winner in the Young People's Literature category in 2010.

Reader reviews

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I read Mockingbird as part of a Book Group – I am extremely glad that I did. The book offers a deep insight into a different perception of the world around us. Caitlin, the protagonist, is such an fascinating character that she makes you cry with her frustration and feel joy at her elation.
Mockingbird is a moving novel by Kathy Erskine in which she tries to send a very important message 'in hopes that we may all understand each other better'. This book was written after the Virginia Tech school shootings, which is of course a very emotive subject. Erskine handled the portrayal of the aftermath of this well. I was drawn it from the very first page of Mockingbird by the unique writing style and distinct voice of our eleven year old narrator, Caitlin, who has Aspergers. We are thrown into the highly emotional setting from the start when we discover that Caitlin's brother, Devon, was a victim of a school shooting. The whole story is about 'Getting It' (finding understanding), finding closure and acceptance. It is really interesting to see the world from Caitlin's perspective. She has quite basic language but the thought behind her words makes them very intense. For the most part, her actions make her appear younger than her age, but her thoughts could be seen as complex. There is some light humour throughout the book even though the protagonist isn't intentionally, or aware that she is, amusing - this just makes the story all that more poignant. Caitlin is often very literal in her thoughts and speech and this shows how things are interpreted differently by different people. Even though Caitlin was different, it's easy to empathise with her. Reading about Caitlin trying to make friends with others and her relationships in general were intriguing and her search to be able to empathise with other was touching. I found reading about her relationship with Michael, a younger boy whose mother was killed during the shooting, to be emotive and very intense but also very natural. Both Michael and Caitlin are young and their childishness, juxtaposed by the harsh issue of death and loss was very effective. I also found the difficult relationship between Caitlin and Josh, a brother of the shooter, to be very stirring. There was more miscommunication when people were calling him 'evil' for simply being related to the shooter. I found one scene in particular, in which Mr Mason, a teacher, makes an offensive remark about autistic children to be quite crushing, I really felt emotion on behalf of Caitlin. Her relationship with her counsellor and future art teacher, however, were fantastic. The title, Mockingbird, is a direct reference to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. When Devon was still alive, he used to call Caitlin Scout as when she says something, it makes people think. The parallels between the Caitlin and Scout's family were well linked. A lot of this story revolves around Caitlin and her father working together to complete building a chest for Devon's Eagle-Scout project, in an attempt to give them both closure. This is a very sentimental idea and it is heartwarming to read about. The relationship between Caitlin and her father is poignant and impressive and when the chest is completed, there was quite an overwhelming feeling. The ending of this book was pleasant, but of course it wasn't perfect - it shouldn't and possibly couldn't be perfect. Not everyone is best friends or happy, but there is certainly room left for this to be a possibility. There's a good conclusion which leaves the story able to naturally progress. Despite everything that happened, the community spirit is still there. This was a fantastic and sometimes heart wrenching book that I would certainly recommend and I really anticipate reading more of Erskine's work.

Press reviews

“Asperger’s syndrome and high school shootings suggest a gruelling read but Erskine tackles such subjects with sensitivity and great insight.”
“Kathryn Erskine's well observed Mockingbird uses first person narration to show us how [Caitlin's] literal world and her continual misunderstandings make her appear tactless, obtuse and uncaring – although she is none of those things.”
“Some stories are so well written and so heartwarming that they stay with you long after you have turned the final page. Mockingbird is one such novel...This is an incredible story of loss and recovery – of how even someone with Asperger’s can slowly begin to unpick social subtleties and begin to learn from them. Just as importantly, it also shows how everyone else can learn from people like Caitlin. It is a remarkable book.”
“A straight-talking, haunting and yet ultimately uplifting young adult novel... Caitlin’s long and sometimes painful journey to some kind of understanding is exquisitely and lovingly crafted by Erskine. There’s a message within these pages for all of us ...young or old.”
“If I had to sum up this book in three words they would be beautiful, moving and uplifting... I really loved Caitlin, she made my heart hurt and she made me smile and laugh as well. This is definitely an uplifting story of the after-effects of a tragedy and how people deal with it in different ways... A beautiful story that is insightful and eye-opening.”
“An exceptionally moving story”
“I read the book in one sitting – I just couldn’t put it down... Author Kathryn demands your attention from the go and maintains the momentum throughout... I’d be very surprised if [Mockingbird] is not shortlisted for the Costa and Booktrust award for 2012.”
“A fantastic and sometimes heart wrenching book that I would certainly recommend.”
“An insightful and poignant novel for teenagers, Mockingbird should encourage young people to understand what life is like with a disability.”
“Reading life through the view of Caitlin has made me look at understanding people and their emotions in a whole new light... 10/10”
“A poignant and well-written story, elements of which will remain with the reader long after the last page is read and from which we will, hopefully, take away valuable lessons.”
“Kathryn Erskine’s evocation of “Asperger thinking” is impressive and sensitively managed.”
“This is a sensitively written and very moving story, not just in the way it presents Caitlin’s view of the world, but in the portrait it paints of individuals struggling to come to terms with grief while remaining a community.”
“This is a book which definitely brings insight and understanding, and through an accessible and convincing voice. Erskine writes with sensitivity and humour.”
“Before I picked this one up I'd been told it was an incredibly moving read and I have to say I completely agree. There is just something about seeing this tragedy through Caitlin's eyes that makes it especially poignant... I'm very intrigued to see what else Kathryn Erskine has written - this certainly left an impression.”
“A heart warming novel... Caitlin’s journey to make friends and learn how to understand other people was so moving... I will definitely be looking out for more from Kathryn Erskine.”
“This is a remarkably thought provoking book that I suspect will be around for some time – accessible to teens and adults, and definitely worth reading.”
“I think Caitlin is a well-structured character; she portrays how a person with Asperger's Syndrome thinks and sees things very well. I got to see how Caitlin sees things because it is written in the first person. I think this was a good way of telling a good, honest story.”
“...unlike anything I’ve ever read before. [Mockingbird] is a moving story of dealing with the loss of a loved one and the slow journey to recovery...Read it and see what I mean. It’s extraordinary.”
“Not only does Kathryn Erskine deal with the very big issue of violence in schools and how grief effects families, but she also takes on the challenge of telling the story through the eyes of a girl with Asperger’s... a great read and one that makes you think about various issues without forcing them at you.”
“An original and compelling first novel.”


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