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.
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.