Thursday, October 22, 2009

Book #58: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I suppose it's kind of useless to review a classic like To Kill a Mockingbird. Didn't we all have to read it in high school? Hasn't everyone seen the movie? But I suppose there must be someone out there who has kept away from it precisely because it was the sort of thing you had to read for an English class, and everyone knows most of the stuff they made you read back then was pretty horrible. But I think this book is the rare exception to that rule. In fact, I think making young kids read it is a mistake--it's a bit too grown up, there's too much in there for most kids to really get it. Reading it again now, when I'm at least a little smarter than I was in 8th grade, I was able to love it much more, to understand it better and understand why it's considered such a classic.

To those who don't know, To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated by Jean-Louise Finch, known as "Scout", and it's the story of a few defining years in her childhood. She and her brother Jem are raised by their single father Atticus, a respected and upstanding laywer in their small town in Alabama. Along with their good friend Dill they play, go to school, and observe the world around them, including the mysterious Radley house and its occupants. Nothing of any real significance (though of course to kids everything is important) happens to them until their father is asked to defend a black man in a trial where he is being accused of raping a poor white woman. It's then that things really start changing for the children, as they begin to see what people are really like.

It's a pretty simple story and plot, really, but this isn't a plot-driven book. It's about growing up, and how our perceptions change as we leave childhood and become young adults. Scout is a beautifully written character, a tomboy who gets into trouble but always means well. Telling the book from her perspective (as an adult remembering her childhood) is what really makes the book work so well. I could identify with her doubts about having to fulfill everyone's expectations of her--having to behave like a young lady when she really just wants to play with the boys, for example. The supporting characters are all fleshed out and believable. It's really not surprising that Atticus Finch is almost always named as one of the best "good guy" characters in literature and movies--he just wants to do what is good and fair, even if that means having to break through centuries-old racial and social barriers. He's the kind of guy that makes you wish the world was full of people like him.

To put it in few words, this is a Great book. Capital "G", people. It's a coming-of-age story that blends in themes of racism (specially poignant in the 50s when it was written), acceptance, doing good, and learning that there is more to people and situations than first meets the eye. It's funny in parts, exciting in others, and completely devastating in some. It's the kind of book I think everyone should read, is my final point.

In addition, everyone should watch the movie after reading this. It's one of the best book-to-screen adaptations ever made--nothing is lost in the transition, and it's a wonderful movie. And Gregory Peck will completely rock your world as Atticus.


Spender said...

Well done.

SuziG said...

I agree Figgy! I just read this for the first time a few months ago and absolutely loved it - now I need to see the film.