I am trying as hard as I possibly can to hold back the tears that are welling up in my eyes right now. I have just finished reading this spectacular, extraordinarily touching book, and it has affected me so much I can't believe it. I don't even know why I'm crying.
It's rare that a book like this affects me. Usually when a book states up front that its protagonist is on the autism spectrum, I prepare myself for crying big, hysterical tears, and then... nothing. Books about quirky outsiders, yeah, those get to me. "Stargirl" made my eyes water, "Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree" made me sniffle (happy tears, though), "How to Say Goodbye in Robot" made me weep openly, and I'm not even gonna go into what happened the first time I read "A Corner of the Universe" (okay, that one had a character with some kind of autism in it but I'm letting it slide because it wasn't the protagonist). But stuff like "Marcelo in the Real World" and "Anything But Typical," both of which were highlights of last year for me, leaves me dry-eyed. I strongly disliked "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," so I wasn't surprised that I didn't cry then, but the other two? I felt like a heartless monster, completely unable to empathize with fictional people going through what I do. Then I read "Mockingbird." Whoa. Guess I was wrong.
Okay, what I want to convey to you right now is that the portrayal of Asperger Syndrome here is dead-on. Pitch perfect. All the stereotyped stuff I hoped the book wouldn't lapse into, that I think so many people believe to be fact, was avoided. So much of what Caitlin does and experiences is stuff I did and went through when I was her age. The way she talks. The way she sucks on her sleeves and names gummy worms. Her love of reading. The misinterpretation of social cues. The grossly inappropriate way she handles some things. And, most sadly of all, her difficulty with dealing with people and the way those kids reacted to her. (I definitely wanted to throttle one of those girls, she reminded me so much of one of my past tormentors.) Of course, being a kid with AS is also frustrating to people around you, and the book refuses to shy away from that. At times you'll want to scream at Caitlin, "Don't do that! Stop it!" and that's a perfectly appropriate reaction. It's not hard to see why people are frustrated, yet you will still feel for her and want her to do well. I also loved how Caitlin became friends with a person younger than herself; many people with AS find it easier to talk to people that are a few years older or younger than themselves, I think. (I certainly have, in the past.)
The other characters are great. I can't believe I didn't hate Josh immediately (he used the word "freak" liberally and I'm inclined to despise anyone who does that, fictional or not; it's nails on a chalkboard to me). On the contrary, I felt for him almost immediately, considering what he's been through. (Chapter 35 is when I started crying, if you want to know or would like a warning.) And Michael? Loved him, of course. Such a good kid and a good friend. I felt for Caitlin's dad especially, even when I was wishing he wouldn't cry so much. (Really, though, considering all he's been through, he could've locked himself in his room and stayed in there forever and it would've been completely justified.) I would've liked a little more Emma, though; she seemed like a good kid.
Despite how much I loved it and that I'm giving it the highest possible score, I'll acknowledge that it's not perfect. No book is perfect. A few times, the run-on sentences reminded me of "The Curious Incident," which was unpleasant. The capitalized words took a little while to get used to. A little bit of what Caitlin says is too precocious and cute, even for a kid with AS. Basically, it's not the most unbelievably smooth book to read. The way it's written isn't so overwhelmingly gorgeous that you have to remind yourself that the protagonist basically spent a paragraph of a hundred flowery words just to describe a brick wall, which means there are certain people who won't like it very much. However, the emotional core is sincere and the details are perfect. It may not win any of the big awards, but it should. Considering the buzz it's getting already, it very well could. What do I know?
Anyway, this is so far my favorite book of the year. I know it's only the beginning of the year, but I doubt that any other book this year will have this sort of effect on me. I highly recommend that you give it a look when it comes out in April. I anticipate that I'll be reading it again soon enough.