12 August 2009

To Kill A Mockingbird

Spunky, uncouth eight year old Jean Louisa “Scout” Finch spends her days in Depression-era Alabama playing and quarreling with her older brother, “Jem;” admiring her attorney father, Atticus; and longing to come face-to-face with her small town’s local character, Boo Radley (who has acquired an almost mythological status because he hasn’t been seen in years.) Her relatively carefree life comes to a crashing halt when Atticus is chosen to defend Tom Robinson, an African American accused of rape. Suddenly, Scout’s kind, wise father becomes the target of spite, and Scout and Jem (deemed guilty by association) also begin to suffer the social consequences.

To Kill a Mockingbird really impressed me. Author Harper Lee skillfully delves into dark territory but still manages to be entertaining. Lee vividly recreates small town Southern life in the 1930s. As a Southerner who has spent most of her life in small towns, I must say: Lee perfectly captures the quirks and personality of the South and the familiarity and gossip that dominate small town life. The dialogue is perfect too. I hate when authors overdo Southern accents, especially by using atrocious grammar and haphazardly inserting “y’all.” Lee’s characters don’t sound like caricatures – they sound like authentic Southerners. All three of the main characters are also immensely likeable: Scout is fiery and ornery; Jem is philosophical and courageous; and Atticus is the epitome of the noble, wise Southern gentleman. Jem and Scout have one of the most realistic brother-sister relationships in all of fiction - they fight and bicker constantly but still look out for each other.

In addition to featuring some of literature’s most memorable characters, To Kill a Mockingbird is an excellent story. The scenes where Jem and Scout desperately try to get a glimpse of Boo are genuinely entertaining. This book also has its fair amount of suspense. The courtroom scene is gripping but not at all melodramatic, and two of the more tense confrontations (one outside the jail; the other in the finale) had me on the edge of my seat. Another thing I liked: Lee manages to seamlessly combine the social justice aspects of her novel with entertainment. Many novels I’ve read that dealt with social justice issues mean well, but they often descend into a lecture that, even if true, isn’t fun to read. That’s not so with this book. Lee balances out the serious and humorous elements of her story masterfully.

To Kill a Mockingbird is an entertaining coming-of-age story, a compelling plea for social justice, and a witty portrait of the 1930s Deep South. This book is popular with kids, but don't let that convince you that this is a juvenile book. It isn't. To Kill a Mockingbird offers a little bit of something for everyone.


  1. Love "To Kill." Why don't they weave powerful stories like that anymore?
    Maybe they do, I've just been reading the wrong stuff. :S

  2. Yeah, this is one of my favorites. I could definitely reread it over and over.

    No, I agree...most newer books just aren't as well-written or good or powerful. *deep mournful sigh* :)