I have to say, I very nearly did not write a post about To Kill a Mockingbird because, let’s face it, EVERYONE has read this book at some point in their education. But, if you grew up under a rock and somehow missed this fantastic piece of literature in the process, go to the nearest place that sells books and buy it, read it, and love it. It is so so so good. And if you haven’t read it since your adolescent days, I recommend you give it a second read. I recently read it for the first time since 8th grade to prepare to teach it and it’s amazing how much has changed for me as a reader the second time around.
So, backstory: To Kill a Mockingbird is set in small-town Alabama during the 1930s and the narrator is Scout, a precocious tomboy, aged 6-8 throughout the novel. The novel begins with vignettes from their small town, including some history, but mostly funny character studies from the lens of a child’s eyes as she explores her neighborhood with her older brother, Jem, and their sometimes-neighbor Dill (modeled after a young Truman Capote). I loved this part the most when I read this as a student because I connected so much with Scout as a narrator – I remembered that child-lens through which she sees the world, and it was refreshing to relive those days and have the much coveted feeling as a teenager that you weren’t the only one who thought that way.
As the story continues, the real plot begins to unfold. Scout and Jem’s father, Atticus (hands down my biggest literary crush of all time – even surpassing my beloved Mr. Darcy), is a lawyer who is appointed to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman. While the courtroom drama unfolds, it is as captivating as you might imagine (I can’t be the only one who gets sucked in every time any litigious event presents itself to me, can I?) But the real story is of Atticus – the father who knows he must do the right thing to be an example to his children, but who struggles with the reality of his children dealing with the ugliness from a town who doesn’t agree with his decision. Lee’s writing isn’t particularly sophisticated – which is why I don’t buy the long-held suspicion that it may have been Truman Capote who wrote the novel – but she captures the subtleties of this predicament and how Atticus uses it to teach his children artfully. The take-home messages: sometimes good people have faulty beliefs, but they’re still (usually) good people. Do the right thing, even when it’s hard. And these are all messages that I’m so excited to get to teach my 9th graders through literature, because NO ONE should make it through school without being exposed to them.
I’ve mentioned before that I love books that make you want to crawl inside them and live there, and this is one of those for me. The characters are well-developed, Scout’s commentary is hilarious, and at the end of it all, you’re reminded that there is ugliness in the world (and there always will be) but there will also always be people who will stand up against it. It’s an absolutely gorgeous book, and after reading it most recently, I had a good long cry for the first time in ages. So go read it, whether it’s for the first time or the hundredth time. It’s worth it, I promise. So worth it, in fact, that I give To Kill a Mockingbird 5 stars. ★★★★★