Friday, March 26, 2010

Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

My goodness, I love this book!  To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is the book that inspired me to host the Flashback Challenge, along with The Phantom Tollbooth.  I loved this book when I first read it my freshman year of high school, but I have not reread it until now.  I love it still.

To Kill a Mockingbird is famously the only book Harper Lee has ever written.  I don't blame her.  It's not the sort of book one can follow up easily.  

For those who may not be familiar with the premise of the novel, I will try to summarize it for you, but know that it is a very episodic novel, so for me, it's hard to summarize.  To Kill a Mockingbird is set in Maycomb County, Alabama, where Jean Louise Finch (called Scout) is growing up during the Great Depression with her brother Jem, her best friend Dill, her father Atticus, her maid Calpurnia and a great many other relatives and neighbors.  The story meanders through many different events and non-events, including the terror the children feel for a reclusive next-door-neighbor and having to learn via the Dewey Decimal Method at school.  But the central story involves Atticus Finch defending a black man in a rape trial, and the backlash to that act, and lessons learned from it.

Atticus Finch is one of the most wonderful characters in literature.  He has such courage and honor, and I loved getting to know him again.  I loved getting to know everyone again.  I think it brilliant that Lee gave us this story through the eyes and ears of a precocious nine-year-old.  Scout is one of my favorite narrators.  She is smart, sassy and fiercely loyal.  Her voice rings so true and made me tear up more times than I could count, just because she was so frank and lively.

Flashback Challenge
It is hard for me to write this review because I just want to spew gushiness all over every inch of you and make you read this book (again, if you already have).  There were so many parts that I don't remember from my first read-through.  I didn't remember Mrs. Dubose and her courageous fight against morphine addiction.  I didn't remember Miss Maudie and how absolutely fantastic she was.  I loved how real Calpurnia was, and Scout's engagement to Dill.  I am ashamed now that Atticus Finch was not on the list of Characters I Love or Characters I Would Marry If They Actually Existed.  How could I have forgotten about him?  How could I have forgotten the entire wonderful microcosm that is Maycomb County?  If Prince Edward Island at the turn of the 20th century is an idyllic place to live and grow, then Maycomb County during the Depression is such a painfully accurate (and yet still truly hopeful) picture of America, in all her flawed glory.  Even today.

I am using a lot of exaggerated adjectives, I know.  I can't help it.

Instead of reviewing the story, I will just point out what points I appreciated more as an adult than I did at 14.

First- I did not realize this book was written in 1960.  I was under the impression it was written much earlier than this and I wish my English teacher had put it more firmly in context for our class when we read it.  Harper Lee wrote this right when America was on the cusp of the Civil Rights movement.  That is brave, especially for a white woman from Alabama!  She was so clever to set this book during the Depression.  This made readers go back a generation and view prejudice as though from  a distance, and judge it, before turning the mirror onto themselves.  She even made a small reference to the hypocrisy of hating Hitler but treating your own countrymen unfairly.  I did not appreciate the courage writing and publishing and then making a movie of this film must have taken until just now, but it adds another layer of awesomeness.

Second- the title.  Perfect.

Also- how wonderful is the Mrs. Dubose part of this story?  An ornery, racist old woman who does battle- and wins- against her own inner demons.  With the help of two children who do not understand what she is going through and are terrified by how old and cruel and terrifying she is.  What a strong character to put into this story, and to teach such an important lesson about facing your problems with dignity and struggling through them to be stronger.  I loved this part of the book.

Miss Maudie rocks. my. world.

I gave a deep sigh of contentment over the last few pages of this novel, when Scout stands on the Radley porch and sees her life pass by through Boo Radley's eyes, and then goes home and curls up in her father's lap.  What a beautiful, understated way to end the book.  You can see how Scout has grown in the novel, and just how much she appreciates the people around her.  I love everyone in this book, really.  I felt such a connection with Maycomb's inhabitants, and I felt so much compassion for them struggling so hard to do what was right.  I am so happy that Scout and Jem grew up with such wonderful neighbors helping them come to terms with the world they live in and make sense of it.

And really, I just love Harper Lee for telling this story through Scout's eyes.  It adds such a spark of humanity to see it before prejudice hits Scout.  And to see Scout's reaction- and even more so, her brother Jem's- when their innocence is stripped from them is so powerful and moving.

I can't say much more about this book.  I love it.  I know most Americans probably read it in school, but I am not sure if people in other countries have.  I highly recommend the read (and the reread) because it is one of my favorite books of all time, and I think anyone who reads it will fall in love with all the characters, just as I did.


  1. So perhaps one of those books I really should read :)

  2. Great review -I really liked love of reading shown in the book-a great book that should be read!

  3. What an absolutely perfect review of a wonderful book. I think you gushed well and your love for it shines through and should send everyone out to get a copy. You made lots of points about the characters I certainly missed. Fantastic review.

  4. I love this book, I can't believe it took me so long to read and once again such an easy to read classic (I have a soft spot for a lot of American classics though, because they seem to make the big issues so easy to understand).

  5. Anonymous3/26/2010

    This is one of my favourite books. Total perfection. I admit I don't read enough American fiction, although I go through phases and try and read the more classic/famous titles. I read this when I was 16/17 and was very affected by the story. It's one of the books that has a global following.

  6. This really was an amazing book, and the movie as well was very well done, I thought!

  7. I love this book! Have you seen the film? I didn't watch it for years because I was convinced it couldn't live up to the book, particularly Atticus. So, so wrong. Gregory Peck, completely my hero. :)

  8. I have never read the book although the movie is one of my favorites ever. The casting was so superb. And you're right - the ending was perfect.

  9. I need to reread this. I read it in late middle school I think and I don't think i really understood enough history to understand the concepts in here, or maybe I was just too young. Can you really get a book about racial tensions when you're 13 years old? So...yeah. It's definitely on my reread list.

  10. Anonymous3/26/2010

    Great thoughts. I too read it some time ago but think it's fantastic. It's on my bookshelf. I don't often re-read books but maybe I will someday or check out your challenge.

    There's a reason Demi Moore named one of her children Scout. If you see the film Capote with Phillip Seymour-Hoffman and Catherine Keener. Capote and Harper Lee were best friends. You should check it out.

  11. This is a great book! I haven't seen the movie though - I probably should remedy that...

  12. Blodeuedd- Yes, definitely!!

    Mel u- Agreed :-)

    Vivienne- Oh, thank you. I am always more worried about reviewing books I feel such a strong affinity for as I descend into fangirl mode very quickly.

    Jodie- You're so right! American books do have a great ability to do that, and I never noticed before.

    chasingbawa- I don't read enough American fiction, either. I should. I have liked pretty much all the American classics I've read. Except Grapes of Wrath.

    Diane- I think so, too, though I prefer the book.

    Jenny- I just saw the movie last weekend! I really liked it, though it left quite a bit of the book out. Like the whole extended family and the Mrs. Dubose sections. But still so good! I thought Scout was spot on.

    rhapsody- Gasp!! I hope you find time to read it. I think you'd really enjoy it.

    Amanda- I feel the same way! I read it at 14 and the whole context of when it was written passed me by, so I can understand your feelings completely.

    writergal- Yes, I don't reread books often, either, but it was nice to have an excuse to pick this one up again. I have seen Capote, and I know they were friends. Someone told me that there is a rumor Capote wrote this book, actually, not Lee. And that Dill was based on him.

    Daphne- I just remedied that very recently myself!

  13. I am so, so glad that this book lived up to your memory of it! As I was reading your review, I also realized that there were characters and situations in the book that I had also forgotten about. This was indeed an awesome review and I am so glad that you gushed about this book! You have inspired me to want to reread this classic as well. I hope that it is still as wonderful to me upon my rereading as it was for you the second time around!

  14. This is one of my favourites too, book and movie. There is an interesting article by Malcolm Gladwell which I think you might like, too: it's very thought-provoking. It's called "The Courthouse Ring: Atticus Finch and the Limits of Southern Liberalism", and I think it's available here but links to New Yorker articles only seem to work for me half the time. It's not a light read, but I stuck with it because I'm so fond of the book, and found it fascinating.

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  16. One of my all time favorite books! I also first read it in high school and then not again until just a few years ago. I've said before Harper Lee only wrote one book, but it was a doozy!!

    So many characters I truly love in this one.

    For my next re-read of this, I want to listen to the audio version that is read by Sissy Spacek. When I heard she was going to do an audio version I thought what a perfect voice for Scout!!

  17. Zibilee- Yes, it definitely stands up well to a reread!

    Buried in Print- WOW, that is a fascinating article! It really puts the book into a different context. It's so true, too. Wow. I must mull for some time now, too.

    SuziQ- Ooh, she would be good! I agree Lee's book was a doozy. If you have time, I recommend reading the article Buried in Print links above. It is good!

  18. I also read this book for the flashback challenge and really enjoyed it. Students at our school like it when they read it in 9th grade, but it is so much better as an adult when you really "get it".

  19. I really must re-read this. I loved it in high school but your review has made me realize that I have forgotten a lot of it. Thanks for reminding me of this beautiful book.

    On a side note, I like the new template!

  20. I only read this book a year or two ago, and I was SO GLAD when I finally did. I foolishly assumed I was too familiar to read it because I'd seen the movie a gazillion times and a couple of theatrical versions. Silly, silly me. The book was SO MUCH BETTER. Love, love, love it. It's definitely one that will be re-read in the future.

  21. This is one of those books I'd love to read again for the first time. I haven't picked it up since my junior year of high school, but it is definitely due for a re-read soon.

    Also, I totally agree about Atticus Finch, he's totally a marriage-worthy character!

  22. Beautiful review. I didn't know this was written in 1960 either. Doesn't seem that way, somehow, the depression setting is so immediate.

  23. So you are making me want to reread! I loved your gushing. I loved this book, too, but am afraid that I missed a LOT of the deeper meanings as a teenager who had no idea about what was going on in between blacks and whites in first world countries then. My little self wrapped up in a little town in Southeast Asia who knew only a different kind of world. I'm sure that if I read it now as an adult I would love it even more and appreciate it greatly! Thanks for the gushing, truly!

  24. Oh my gosh, you totally left teary-eyed with this review! One of my most favorite favorite books of all time.

    Now I need to read The Phantom Tollbooth!

  25. Anonymous3/26/2010

    When I was a substitute teacher, the movie was a favorite emergency lesson plan for many teachers. Consequently, I've seen the movie a lot. Still, I would like to re-read this someday...glad to hear it remains a favorite!

  26. I loved this book as well when I read it multiple times in school and it's one of those that I will always have a copy of! I loved your review!

  27. Zee- Yes, I had forgotten a lot, too. And thanks about the template- it was fun to play with!

    Andi- I agree! The movie is good but the book IS much better. I loved rereading it.

    April- Yes, I'd like to read it for the first time again, too. Though really, reading it at 26/27 is very different than reading it over the summer before freshman year of high school.

    Trapunto- Yes, I was surprised, too! Makes sense, though, as I think Lee is still alive...

    claire- DO IT! I definitely missed a lot of the hidden stuff. And the article Buried in Print shared above makes me realize that even on THIS read, I missed a lot.

    Debi- I love Phantom Tollbooth! I hope if you read it, you like it- it's just FUN :-)

    softdrink- It's so strange that I don't think I ever saw the movie before. I do love Gregory Peck :-)

    Amused- Thank you- I will always have a copy, too!

  28. Beautiful review, Aarti. You did completely succeed in making me want to read it again. I had forgotten how it ended, actually, and remembering it brought tears to my eyes. I want to run to the shelf and hug my copy now :P (Yes, I'm silly like that.) Also, I love what you said about how brave of her it was to write this in 1960, and how clever to set it a few generations back.

  29. Hey, I'm not going to be able to get to my book review of Last Night in Montreal today. I'm not normally this flaky, but I've had a crazy schedule lately. I'm currently on vacation in New England and will return home Monday. I'm about half way through the book, but don't want to promise it will be reviewed by any particular date (although it's awesome and I will review it eventually). I'd be interested in participating in future Spotlight Series, and will organizing my reading/blogging time better in the future to facilitate timely reviews! I'm going to post this comment as an entry to leprechaunreads right now, so that people who come looking for the review will see it. Thanks!

  30. So many years since I read this - think it might be time for a reread!

    Lovely review. :-)

  31. I remember loving this book when I first read it too! I don't recollect much now though, so I guess it's time for a re-read!

  32. I love this book as well. The movie is really good too. I think it is because it was told through Scout, it was so endearing to so many people.

  33. I love this book, and I'm so embarrassed that it took me so long to read it. It was a really wonderful experience and one of those rare books that nearly made me cry. I was watching the movie a few days back, and I was so happy that they maintained the sweet innocence of the book, but was hard-hitting at the same time.

  34. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book too. Your comments on it make me want to go reread it right now!!

  35. Nymeth- I know how you feel about wanting to go hug the book. I feel the same way about some, too!

    Sara- Thanks for letting me know!

    Cat- It had been a very long time for me, too, so I'm glad I read it again and resparked my memory.

    Aths- Same! There was so much I had forgotten.

    Teddy Rose- Yes, the movie was really great, though I prefer the book.

    Hazra- It made me sniffle quite often, too. I liked that it made me want to cry.

    Rebecca- Good! My job is done, then ;-)

  36. It just doesn't get much better than To Kill a Mockingbird does it? One of the best ever written. I definitely got more out of it as an adult and had a much different perspective. I probably will ten years from now as well!

  37. This really is a phenomenal book. I haven't read it in quite some time and may very well re-read it again soon myself.


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