Something Good and Strong and Beautiful

Dad wipes his eyes and I do too because mine are blurry and somehow I think it’s really important to see right now.  What I see is that his body is shaking which means he’s crying and soon his voice comes out in strange-sounding gasps that sound like he is laughing weirdly or throwing up except nothing is coming out of his mouth.  Finally he covers his face with his hands and stops the noise and his body stops shaking and after he sniffs twice he takes his hands away from his face and turns his head to me.

How did you get to be so smart?

I shrug.  I’m really working hard on finesse.

Then he takes my hands in his and I don’t even pull them away because he is looking at my cuts closely and I would want to do that too if I saw cuts on somebody’s hands so I let him look.

Do you still really want to do this?

I don’t know if he means to keep cutting the oak tree or work on the chest but I say, Yes, just in case he means the chest.

You think this will bring us Closure?

I shake my head.  No.  I know it will.

He blows a little air out of his nose and nods.  He lets go of my hands and does one more big sigh.  Maybe we can make something good and strong and beautiful come out of this.

Good and strong and beautiful.  I like those words.  They sound like Devon.  I want to build something good and strong and beautiful.

Okay, Dad says.  Let’s do it.


Just a hooking excerpt from Kathryn Erskine’s young adult novel, Mockingbird.  Caitlin is a 10 year old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder that makes identifying and expressing emotions difficult.  Preparing for middle school is tough enough, but Caitlin’s disorder and the death of her brother, Devon, make life even more difficult to understand.  Erskine gives us a truly humane voice, writing in the style of Caitlin with words appearing capitalized for importance.  Words like Heart, Closure, Work At It, and Look At The Person.  Caitlin’s best friend is her dictionary, and when her brother is killed in a school shooting, she must come to understand what Closure is.  So, she asks everyone she meets, “How do I get to the state of experiencing an emotional conclusion to a difficult life event?”  You can see where both heartache and laughter make their appearance in this quick, and beautiful read.

The idea for Mockingbird came  to Erskine after the violent shooting at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia in 2007.  The shooting was the deadliest one by a lone gunman in United States history.  Deeply impacted by this event happening in her own backyard, Erskine sought to develop how a community finds closure, especially for the families with special needs.  Her own daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s in the second grade.  The first-person narration of this story I feel gives it the power it does.  You empathize with Caitlin, in her plight to understand empathy!

Do you remember hearing about the shooting at Virginia Tech?  I do, I was still in college and the news was on all the time.  The campus did lots to allow students a chance to speak what they were feeling and provide resources for anyone who was feeling depressed or angry or felt they had no one to talk to.  I highly encourage you to read this book.  The chapters are short and quick moving with lots of dialogue, so it is a very fast read.  And for those of you raising children, what a wonderful novel to spark up conversation with your kiddos before they grow up and live out their own lives away from home.  My local library is partnering with two area high schools to lead a book discussion and I’m hoping to go the night the author will be town!

What books made an impact on you when you were young?  What about now?  Happy reading from The Happiness Project!

Enjoy this book review?  Like wacky family memoirs?  Like newcomer writers struggling to figure things out?  Subscribe here!

15 responses

  1. This book sounds lovely. I have a peculiar fascination with autism, so I’ll see if I can check it out. On a related note have you read, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime? Another great book written from the perspective of an autistic child, but with a slightly different focus. I highly recommend it.

    1. Albert, I’ve missed you! I think you’ll really like this book. I was inspired by her writing style, it just made sense how she did it and added to the reader’s connection with Caitlin. I will add your recommendation to my goodreads list. Thanks!

      1. I’ve been around. I just haven’t had anything to add. I don’t like to comment when it’s superfluous.

  2. Beautiful excerpt, Jess…Thanks for the review!

    Adding my recommendation of “Curious Incident…” to Albert’s…we read it in our Book Club.


    1. The book is officially on my goodreads to-read list!

  3. Found this review via @kirtenlambtx on Twitter.

    I read Mockingbird on Thanksgiving morning while my husband made most of the food for our guests. I _could not_ be torn away.

    Mockingbird made me laugh and cry – each – about 20 times in a relatively short read. You picked a winner for your Happiness project! I wish you well.


    1. Thanks Christine! It was a great read, a lot of emotions in a little amount of words. Talented author, Erskine! Can’t wait to meet her!

  4. Great review. I remember that tragedy. So sad. Thanks for the review. Sounds like a good book to read. Blessings, Jess…

    1. Thanks for stopping by Carol. I think you’d love this book. You write such lovely poems and the writing in the book has, I feel, a poetic quality to it because it’s written in Caitlin’s point of view. So certain words and phrases repeat themselves, and it becomes poetry.

  5. Sounds like an excellent book! As a child, I was drawn to The Hobbit. I credit that book with instilling in me a love for both words and fantasy. Naturally, I’m thrilled that Peter Jackson is turning it into 2 movies!

    1. Funny story about my family: My oldest brother did a book review on The Hobbit every year of school. He says he really liked it, but I question how many times he actually read it. I won’t hold it against him though, he reads a lot now.

  6. I’ll definitely be reading this one. It sounds wonderful. I second Albert’s recommendation. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is a great read.

    You already know I read lots of Nancy Drew and Judy Blume as a kid. I also enjoyed Julie of the Wolves, Ben and Me, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlotte’s Web, and anything by Edgar Allan Poe.

    1. I read Julie of the Wolves, and I thought it was a so-so read when I was in middle school. I LOVED James and Giant Peach, read that several times! You know what one book I despised reading in school? The Hatchet. Give me a break, that boy had bad luck! He just made me mad, if it wasn’t a bear, it was a porcupine. He was always vomiting and being attacked by wildlife and almost drowning. It was too much for me. I much more enjoyed Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, The Giver, The Westing Game, and A Wrinkle in Time. Oooh, another one I loved, written by Julie Andrews (Sound of Music!!) under her married name Julie Edwards was the book The Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles. Ok, tangent book list over. lol.

  7. I know the case that happened in Virginia Tech University. I was in military service at that time and soldiers were all shocked, “Happened what?”. What a tragedy……

    And I found your post very attractive, leading me to look into that book. I haven’t read much these days and I think I should start now 🙂

    1. What a unique experience you had, being in the military at a time this event occurred. In regards to the book, I bet you’d enjoy it a lot, but pick up any book and start READING AGAIN! 🙂

Tell me a story...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: