When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.
***Read as part of the Through the Wardrobe Debut Novels Challenge***
One of the biggest pieces of literary news to hit the headlines at the end of last year was that Harper Lee, a famous media recluse and ‘one-hit-wonder’, was to publish her second book in 2015 at the age of 89. Excitement rippled through the literary world when the news broke, for we were to be reunited with some of the most iconic characters in English literature! So in anticipation of Go Set A Watchman, my next debut novel had to be Harper Lee’s beloved book.
Set in the Deep South during the 1930s Depression, To Kill A Mockingbird follows the children of lawyer Atticus Finch as they grow up in small-town Maycomb County. Their father is about to take on the case of his life – defending a black man against the charge of raping a white girl – and Scout and Jem are about to learn that the law of the land is not necessarily decided in the courtroom, for small towns come hand-in-hand with small-town politics and small-town prejudices.
Like almost every child in the UK, my first encounter with TKAMB was at school. I remember it being one of the first books to have a noticeably profound and reverberating effect on me and for that reason it quickly became a favourite book on the bookshelf. I fell in love with impetuous Scout, quietly astute Atticus and their tale, for it teaches and explores issues related to equality, prejudice, independence and expectation without ever feeling preachy or forced. This book is an emotional rollercoaster that twists and turns in the subtlest of ways as it follows two children growing up in world that doesn’t always make sense.
Without a doubt it is the people written within TKAMB that brings this tale to life. Every character, large or small, lives within the pages of this book – there are no half-characters or redundant bit-parts because every person represents a different and relevant aspect of society. In spite of nothing astronomical actually happening, drama, suspense and intrigue still fill the pages of this book and carry the story to high emotive levels due to the people Lee presents within it. Lee’s observational and questioning style of writing breathes life into this book and, as a result, her audience is thrown right into the heart of this rich community and made a part of it.
The crowning glory of Lee’s work has to be Atticus Finch. He is imperfectly perfect and the most affecting character I have ever met within the pages of any book. I could honestly write reams about this beautifully sincere and honest character and the older I get when I reread this tale the more I appreciate his subtleties and sensibilities. There is wisdom to his words and movements that surpass any outright moral teachings and he definitely is a character to try and emulate outside the realms of fiction.
There are few books that deserve the accolade of ‘masterpiece’ but Lee’s debut is certainly one of them. In just 320 short pages Lee exposes the beauty and unpleasantness of human nature through the innocent voice of her child narrator, Scout. I had never experienced such a strong sense of injustice until the first time I read To Kill A Mockingbird and even now, whenever I reread it, I still hope for a different ending. There is a reason this book survives rereads and lives on in with each generation of readers and that is simply because it inspires. Let it inspire you.