Monday, September 8, 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Category: Fiction & Classics

Synopsis: Pulitzer Prize-winning coming-of-age novel about Scout Finch, her brother Jem, and attorney father Atticus, set in 1935, racially-charged Alabama.

Date finished: 17 July 2014

Rating: *****

Beware of superlatives....

I read this book in AP English in high school, and I remember loving it then. But oh my goodness, I couldn’t have possibly gotten as much out of it at 17 as I did on this re-read. I read it in preparation for the new biography of Harper Lee, The Mockingbird Next Door. In an interview, the author was asked why Harper Lee never wrote a second novel, and she said she suspected (What, she never ASKED her that?! Isn’t that the ONE question you’d ask Ms. Lee?!) that she felt she could never live up to To Kill a Mockingbird. I can understand that crippling fear, but how I wish she had overcome it!

I’m just going to say it: this book is one of the finest novels ever written in the English language. (My apologies to Jane Austen.) The subtlety, the detail, the personalities are so well-crafted, I honestly wouldn’t have changed a thing.

And be still my heart, Scout. Scout is one of the most original, complex (for her age or any age), and humorous characters ever presented to the American public. All the naughty-girls-who-can’t-help-it-and-are-doing-the-best-they-can in literature since this book owe themselves to Scout Finch. Without Scout there would be no Olivia, no Clementine. (Eloise came before Scout. Stinker.)

Although the book deals with weighty subjects—racial prejudice, poverty, rape, abuse, and murder—it is not a depressing book. I owe that to Harper Lee’s ability to capture everyday life down to the last tittle. And then to reign it in. Her characters have flaws and preconceptions and limitations. They suffer for each other and at each other’s hands. Scout and Jem struggle with growing pains and understanding adult issues. But the book never gets maudlin or sentimental. Likewise, it never gets so ugly you can’t go on. Written as the Civil Rights Movement picked up steam, this book challenged people—dared people—to, as Gandhi said, “be the change they wished to see.”

If you haven’t read this heartbreakingly, breathtakingly, beautiful book, please do.

(See, I told you there’d be a lot of superlatives.)

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Are you kidding?

Fun fact:
I read this in three ways: my father’s 1962 paperback (price: 60¢), electronically (for free) on, and on audio CD narrated by Sissy Spacek. I recommend all three options, though good luck finding the paperback.


  1. I absolutely agree -- somehow I missed out on this in all of my required reading. I ended up reading it right before I went to law school and then again during and after law school... such a great novel. :)

    1. Yes. I really wish Harper Lee would have written more books. She had an amazing gift.

  2. I have this book, bought it more than a year ago and still haven't read it. I sure will get to it this year. I hope. Thanks for the lovely review, I look forward to reading it.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Melinda. I think reviews for books you loved are the hardest kind to write. I hope you love the novel!