Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee: A Review

To Kill A Mockingbird is the best book I have read this year, and maybe last year, hands down. I read it once in middle school, but didn't remember anything about it and therefore don't count that. Now, as an adult, I have to say this is IMMEDIATELY going in my top five of all time all time all time. Why don't more people talk about this book? INHALE deep breath ok here we go:

It's a simple story about a little girl, her brother, and her father in a 1930's Southern town. The father, Atticus, is a lawyer set to defend a young black man against a rape charge. Things get difficult for the family as the town's latent racism rises up. Amidst this backdrop, Scout and Jem (the brother and sister) do various growing-upish type things. There's a creepy neighbor in a creepy house.

This is a book about Truth with a capital "T", the kind that breaks your heart to learn, the good truths about people and the bad. Truths about losing your innocence, maintaining integrity at all costs, race, class, God, hypocrisy, family, and the South. It's actually pretty heavy on the Southern Gothic, which I thought was interesting after having just read Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor, the South's saint of gothicy-ness. Gotta tell you: Flannery's got nothing on Harper.

Interestingly enough, Flannery said this of To Kill A Mockingbird: "I think for a child's book it does alright. It's interesting that all the folks that are buying it don't know they're reading a child's book. Somebody ought to say what it is."

I think Flannery can sit on it and spin. This is no child's book, though it is told from the point of view of a child. Harper used the same elements as Flannery O'Connor: forms of the gothic, elements of grotesqueness through physical deformity, essential Southern-ness, and Christianity, but she does it better. Harper never tries to hide the fact that amidst all of this, there is goodness in the world. She doesn't beat you with ugliness to make her point. Flannery lets people off the hook at the end of her works: Harper never puts them on it. 

Anyway, this wasn't meant to be a comparison between the two novelists, but having just read O'Connor, these were the thoughts that beat me about the face and neck. Another thought: if you're suffering through a blazingly hot summer, maybe don't read back to back books about blazingly hot summers. Just a suggestion.

The only criticism I can find of this book falls into one of two camps: it's too idealistic, or it's too popular. My only response is: get a soul, you heartless snob.

The best promotion I can give this book is this: it made me cry (when the neighbors bring Atticus all the food after the trial). I've never cried reading a book. EVER.

Five stars out of your mom. And by five stars I mean roughly six hundred and twelve.


  1. Wow. It made you cry? Unexpected. I'm glad. I'll have to add this to my ever-increasing re-read list.

  2. AMEN! I do remember reading this in high school (or middle school maybe) and it had a major impact on me. I cried too though for me that's not saying much, I cry during commercials. I definitely wouldn't classify it as a child's book. I don't think my 8 year old would get as much out of the book now as he would in 6-8 years. I think the issues would be a little complex for him right now. So glad you gave it another go!

  3. I will have to add it my reread list as well. I haven't read it since high school and I remember the movie more clearly than the movie. I will re read it soon I hope

  4. I haven't read it since middle school. I don't remember a lot of it, but I do remember it being wonderful. I suppose I'll have to see if I can find my copy so I can reread it.

  5. What was Flannery's problem? Jealousy maybe?

    Anyway, yes, it's one of those books that deserve all the stars.

  6. My soul remains in tact, phew. Actually it swells a but. I'm so glad you loved this as much as I hoped. It's such a beautiful story.

    I can't believe Flannery called it a "children's book." Mockingbird is the only book I've consciously thought NEEDS to be reread at different points throughout one's life. I read it in 6th grade, sometime in high school, and my first year of teaching, and every time it's had a different effect on me. I want to reread it again when I have kids. And when I'm old. And a few other times.

  7. Jackie- It DID. And it was at the least emotionally disturbing bit. Neighbors bring them food. Fin.

    Reading Rachel- It can't be a child's book. I read it as a child and all I remembered was that it was cool someone wrote an adult book from a kid's perspective. Also, I remembered the gifts in the tree. Because I wanted a gift-tree.

    Becky- Well, the movie is awesome. Must re-watch.

    Jazz R.J.- Do it, do it!

    Chris- I dunno, maybe. It's weird, she doesn't sound so high and mighty in her letters, but she does in her fiction..I'm beginning to wonder about her..

    Catherine-YAY! I agree, it does need to be taught and re-taught. I read somewhere that it's the least academically studied classic, and that no one has ever done a dissertation on it?! Er?!

  8. I have never read this book, although I do own a copy of it. Perhaps I'll bump it up on my TBR list and give it a read, sooner rather than later. Sounds like a great book!

  9. Great review! I just reread this a week ago and finished Mockingbird, a biography about Harper Lee, this week. I found it really interesting that so much of the book was based on real events that happened in her life. And this book really isn't idealistic at all in my opinion, like you said it's very True.

  10. Your review makes me happy - like - I want to tell others happy! I am very much looking forward to re-reading it again this August.

  11. Nadia- It seems like reading it in the summer is really the best way to go, so I'd bump up that book! Dooooo itttttttt...

    Ash- Gracias. I did hear that a lot of it is autobiographical- apparently the character of Dill is based on Truman Capote, who was her next door neighbor and best friend? Uh..wicked aweseome.

    Leah- Yay! Tell all your friends. Except the ones who don't like it. I don't want them around. ;)

  12. Just started becoming a regular reader of your blog and have to say you have hit the nail on the head as far as this book goes. It is definitely in my all-time favorites and no one can ever say anything at all bad about it without incurring my wrath! I love the expression "sit on it and spin". I'm gonna have to steal that one. Great job!

  13. Some books are best read when you are a teenager and this is one of them. I remember reading this back in secondary school and it made a big impression on me. I adore the film. Gregory Peck was great.

    Awesome review by the way.

  14. Love, love, love, love, love this book, and I consider myself incredibly lucky that I got to teach it the past five years. I especially love that Lee exposes the hypocrisies and idiosyncracies of the South while still showing that she loves the South, too.

    I'm not a big cryer when it comes to reading, and I cry at the end. Every time. Even in class. Talk about awkward (it's the "thank you for my children, Boo" that makes it hard for me to keep it together in front of the kiddos. That and the first time Scout sees Boo and recognizes him!)

    Your review was great!

  15. I loved this when I read it the first time, but I suffer from the same fate. Why do I love it? I found it at a dime library sale a bought it a year or so ago with the intention of rereading it. After reading your review I feel inspired to get on that.

  16. I love this book. We read it in 8th grade but I think like The Catcher in the Rye, it may be a book I need to read every year. I adore this book so very much.

    A criticsm I've heard is that the book did so well because the author is white, what would have happened if the author was black? (does that make sense, I'm not sure how to articulate this arguement). Basically a black author could not write this story and make it a classic, but a white author could. Not saying I buy it, but it's an arguement I've heard.