Tag Archives: Kathryn Erskine

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!

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The Happiness Project Case Files, pt. 1

“I’ve been journaling since I was 15.  It’s a wonder that I’ve managed to be a successful human being considering how pathetic I appeared in many of my daily musings.”  –Oprah, in Oprah Magazine April 2011

I caved.  I was standing in line at the grocery store waiting to check out and glancing over the magazines they strategically place right near the counter when I read the cover for Oprah’s newest issue.  In the magazine, she shows you pages of her journals from 1970-1985.  I had to read it.  And wouldn’t you know, most every page had to do with some boy.  She’s been keeping a journal since she was 15, and I’ve been journaling since I was 13.  I’m sure a fair amount of my “daily musings” were about boys, in fact I’m positive they were.  But, I also changed the purpose of my journaling just like Oprah did.  At some point in her life, she began to use her journal as a place for gratitude and blessings in her life rather than recounting all the bad stuff.  By allowing herself that positive space she allowed good things to enter her life.  I’m not going to tell you it’s easy.  It isn’t.  Despite all the advice I get from Oprah, or from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, which I read last year and which prompted the beginning of this wayward blog, I by no means have it all figured out.  But, I’m getting there.

I’ve also been reading the book Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine.  It’s a young adult novel about a 10 year old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder that makes it difficult to understand and express emotion.  Despite her disorder, I find Caitlin extremely delightful as she practices naming emotions on the playground, making friends, and celebrating the things she’s good at like finesse.  Here’s an excerpt that made me laugh, because I know exactly how she feels.  The scene is Caitlin is in the school office talking to her counselor on the phone.

She says I have to be patient and keep trying.  Sometimes things don’t work the first time but then eventually they do.

Like finesse?


And making friends?


Even for me?

Absolutely.  I have confidence in you.  You just have to keep trying.

Josh is walking into the principal’s office when I get off the phone.

He turns his head to me and whispers, Loser.

I know, I tell him, but I’m going to keep trying.

To put it in Caitlin’s terms.  “I Get It.”  I know how she feels.  Because I feel that way too.  What does Oprah and a 10 year old with Asperger’s have to do with your blog, Jess, you ask?  I guess they represent where my head is at in this writing journey of mine.  I know I’ve come a long way, but I have to keep trying.

Case in point, an excerpt from my April 1, 2000 journal ( I was in 8th grade):

In the future I want…

  • to be a famous, or at least published authoress
  • to travel all over the world
  • to happily marry a wonderful, handsome, God-loving man
  • to some distant day have a baby girl and a baby boy
  • to maybe direct or write or act in a good movie
  • to meet my penpal, Andrea
  • to be rid of this dreadful retainer!

Lylas (love you like a sister),


What do you think?  What parts of your writing journey do you have to keep working at?  What about your happiness journey?  Do you have goals from childhood you’re still working on?  Ever pull out your old journals and try to name the emotions in them?  lol.

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