I was especially interested in this book because the narrative is told from Caitlin's unique perspective as someone with Asperger's - it seemed a tall order, and I wondered if Erskine could be successful. Well, she is. Caitlin is wholly believable as a character, and, because she is telling the story, the reader has insight into how she perceives the world - her thought processes and actions make sense.
There are so many story strands and themes in this book that I can see many great discussions forming around its characters and themes. For one thing, Devon is killed in a Columbine-like incident at his middle school. Erskine was very much influenced by the Virginia Tech shootings which took place, as she puts it, "in my backyard." Although it may seem like a heavy duty subject to tackle in a YA book, Erskine does it beautifully - she focuses on the impact of the event as opposed to the blood and gore. The shooter's cousin is a classmate, and the teacher who died during the event leaves behind a young son, a kindergartner Caitlin befriends - her first real friend.
Each of these secondary characters, as well as Caitlin's dad and Devon himself, whose relationship with Devon forms a powerful story thread throughout the book, contributes something in Caitlin's journey to "closure." One of the most touching themes in the story is that of Caitlin's own growing understanding of empathy. This is something kids with Asperger's really struggle with, as I have found in my own classroom over the years. Caitlin has to learn how to understand empathy as an intellectual concept - once she does, she can translate that into behavior that makes it possible to have relationships with people. It was fascinating to see how Erskine was able to craft this aspect of the story.
Because all forms of dialogue are presented in italics, this would be a difficult story for a read aloud. But I will definitely present it as a book club option in our first round (about three weeks from now). I think it will be a wonderful book through which my kids can explore meaningful topics they already care about: bullying, learning alongside kids with challenges, and creating a school environment that is safe and accepting.
In Caitlin’s world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing. That’s the stuff Caitlin’s older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon’s dead, and her father cries a lot. Caitlin wants to get over it, but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s, she doesn’t know how. When she reads the definition of “closure” in the dictionary, she realizes that is what she and her father need. In her search for Closure, Caitlin discovers that not everything is black and white--the world is full of colors--messy and beautiful, and it is through this discovery that she embarks on a road which leads her to find both healing and Closure."