Caitlin’s (5th grader) brother Devon was killed in a devastating shooting at the Virginia Dare Middle School and she’s not sure life is ever going to be the same. She misses him, but she has Asperger’s syndrome, so her way of relating to people and the world is a little different than normal. It doesn’t help that Caitlin’s dad is falling apart with grief, either. Although she’s different, Caitlin struggles to understand other people. Devon used to help her with this, but now she’s only really got the social worker at the school who really understands her and she wants Caitlin to step out of her comfort zone and try to make some friends. When her dad tells her that she has to find “closure” Caitlin (after much thought and consideration – what does ‘closure’ even mean?) decides that the thing that would most help them both is to finish Devon’s Eagle Scout project – making a wooden Mission chest. This, and her friendships with two other kids who were also profoundly affected by the school shootings (a 1st grader, Michael, whose mother was killed by the shooter, and fellow 5th grader, Josh, whose cousin was the shooter) help Caitlin through her own unique grieving process and open her up to learning something about empathy. Kathryn Erskine does a lovely job of rendering Caitlin’s world, the world of an Asperger’s person. Because this is written from Caitlin’s point of view, readers are better able to understand her than the other characters in the story do, which creates a lot of sympathy for her. While it’s clear that she’s different, she’s not so different that we can’t understand her situation and empathize with it. The school shootings are somewhat softened through Caitlin’s eyes, but you can tell how much more intensely other people (like Caitlin’s dad) are affected by their losses. Touching, somewhat sad, but ultimately empowering.
Reviewed by YA Librarian
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