Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird
By: Harper Lee
Publication Date: 1960
Page Count: 376
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Audience: Young Adult - Classic
To Kill A Mockingbird is a real classic; I’ve always heard it talked about in the highest regard... Lark Andrea, for example, rates it as her favourite read ever. I am inclined to agree... this is a really fine novel.
Some books are highly entertaining because they are pacy and full of action, and I do love those types of reads. I sometimes like to switch off my brain and let the book do the work for me. I think I have become quite a lazy reader in that respect recently, so it came as something of a surprise to me to be reading a book, and have to look backwards through the prose, convinced I’d missed something. Therein lies the charm of To Kill A Mockingbird; this is not a book that tells you everything, and you will have to work out a little for yourself. The threads of the main storyline, about the trial of Tom Robinson, a Negro (to use the book’s own terminology) falsely accused of raping a white girl, are laid so finely that at times you might miss them.
The story is told by Scout Finch... also known as Jean Louise to the long suffering aunt who tries to make her a little lady. Scout is just fine with running about in coveralls with her brother Jem and their exciting, and slightly exaggerative, friend Dill. She doesn’t want to be a girl, wear pretty dresses or sit chatting with women while the boys have all the fun. To be fair to Scout, she’s not even ten years old, and I think I was exactly like that at her age, which endeared her to me. She doesn’t understand much about the world, although she pretends to, but she is determined not to lose face with Jem and Dill. Much of the time, people try to talk over Scout, and that is when you have to work a little more as a reader.
Scout, Jem and Dill have many adventures together, and a good number revolve around trying desperately to find out more about their reclusive neighbour, Arthur “Boo” Radley. They have never seen him, but his presence is felt keenly in ghost stories and bogey man tales. He really does become larger than life to the children, and it was certainly amusing to read about how they grew up with his myth.
I did find this book moderately perplexing for the first third... I’d read the blurb about the story, but was having a hard time relating what I was reading to what I’d expected to be reading. Eventually though, Scout and Jem started to hear more about Tom Robinson through their father, the peerless Atticus Finch. I loved this character more than any other in the book. Atticus is a mature father, and he has very particular ideas about the world and how he wants his children to relate to it. There are many quotes from him that I scribbled down to savour later. He is upstanding and determined to do the right thing in representing Tom Robinson, even when he knows that he doesn’t stand a chance against the deep rooted prejudice of his small town. Atticus has no expectation of getting Tom acquitted as he knows the people of his town, and he tries to prepare Scout and Jem to cope with the backlash of his choices.
What I found particularly moving was Jem’s journey through the book. Jem matures into a very serious young man, with a firm desire to emulate his father’s values. He takes a keen interest in the trial of Tom Robinson, and as an objective individual, untainted by the prejudices of others he is aggrieved by what he sees. Reading from Scout’s perspective only served to heighten my appreciation of that.
My overall feeling on this book is that it is a story which will stay with me for a long while. It has plenty to teach readers and it does it in an enjoyable, if meandering, way.
The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.
Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior - to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.