To Kill a Mockingbird

Continuing the theme of Southern literature (apparently- see The Darkling and Southern Fried Child on this blog) I could not pass up the opportunity to review To Kill a Mockingbird.

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the best books ever written. I could stop there, but I won’t.

Written by Harper Lee, the book was so controversial, that she spent most of her subsequent life reclusive from the rest of the world. An honest, heartfelt piece about civil rights, society, and the nature of people, it was not initially well-received. Since then, it has become a pinnacle novel, and the Harper Lee award is today one of the highest honors for writers, particularly in the South.

To Kill a Mockingbird follows a little girl named Scout as she experiences growing up in a very poor, rather rural Alabama town. He father Atticus is an attorney, little known sharp-shooter, and excellent role model. He is one of my personal heroes. Scout is observant and honest as only a child narrator can be, and as a reader, her genuineness is as captivating as the story. The portion of the story most people recall is the trial of Tom Robinson, an African-American man accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a woman from a “white trash” family. As profound as that sequence is, the novel contains so much more. We see how a town shuns people, how families function or completely fail to function.

In the novel, people are revealed exactly as they are with minimal judgment and pure honesty. This is what makes the novel so profound. Few authors have created a picture of the world as well as Harper Lee does in this novel; through Scout, we see the world as it is and fill in the conclusions ourselves. Scout’s observations are both sage and innocent, with a healthy dose of humor as only childhood thoughts can provide. Every read reveals something new. Rereading the book for this review, I was taken aback by the profound notions, beautiful writing, and elegant truth of this novel.

Themes: (There are too many to list all of them, but here are some. Many students read this for school already, and this is not the novel to shirk- yes, I see you. Not judging, but read this one. You will be glad you did.)

Right and Wrong: Atticus always strives to do what’s right, and insists his children do the same. He stands up for what he believes in, no matter how painful it can be- and it does get painful.

Innate Value of People: As hard as it is for Scout, people can be very different and even difficult to understand. All people deserve respect, and Atticus shows it no matter what the other person does. The harder people try to humiliate Atticus, the more heroic he becomes.

We Do Not Always Know the Truth: The infamous Boo Radley is the subject of childhood fantasies, all of them frightening, spurred by town gossip. In the end, well… I won’t ruin it.

Family Dynamics: From needing to be aristocratic to being abusive and frightening, the novel is honest and reveals the way families function both compassionately and honestly.

History: This novel covers race relations pre-1960, and it shows the history of the South from several points of view. This book is a journey into Southern culture as it used to be.

This novel is one of the most incredible on the required reading list for school. If you are not in school, but have not read it, go and read it. Immediately. Don’t waste time on anything else. You’re welcome.

Inklings Highly Recommended

Recommended for older children through adults; this book has many subtleties small children may miss and some parents may not be comfortable with all of the concepts for small children. However, considering that the narrator is in fact a child just starting school, the book is not really “inappropriate.”

The Darkling

(Sorry! The images were not working. However, you can see it here.)

The Darkling by R. B. Chesterton is, in short, and excellent piece of fiction. Set in southern Alabama, this novel combines the allure of a graceful Southern Gothic with the page-turning drive of a suspense. Full of anticipation and suspense, this book is simply terrifying in a Hitchcock sort of way… if Hitchcock set his films under the moss-covered shade trees of the South.

When a family purchases a bed and breakfast and manor with a Golden Age tragic past, they don’t expect to be plagued by evil. It’s all up to the children’s live-in tutor to save them from the evil force destroying them all, one by one. Because of the plot-twists, this is all I am going to say for the summary.

This novel is not suitable for small children, but teenagers will thoroughly enjoy it. It’s a pleasure to read a dark, Gothic piece that is truly engrossing, romantic, and beautifully written. It will appeal to fans of the now popular darker novels, suspense, thriller, or horror readers, fans of good Southern literature, or anyone who likes a well-written book. R.B. Chesterton has a treasure in this novel. It hearkens to both Wuthering Heights and Cristobel.

This novel is scary all the way through, which is part of its hook and keeps the pages turning. That said, this may not be a bedtime book. I know I kept the lights on at least one night after reading it.

Themes: (I must be vague, because there is too much in the plot to make many descriptions. I will not add spoilers this time.)

Good vs. Evil: What are their nature? How far will they go? What is this universal conflict and how far does that go?

Loyalty: Loyalties come into question- loyalties to family, adopted family, and to self.

Free-will: How well can we protect those we love?

Duty and Responsibility

Existential: Can we change, or are we what we are? Are we a certain way or certain thing before we even know it? If that is the case, how much does that determine our lives without our knowledge?

Inklings: Highly Recommended

Ages: Restricted; not suitable for small children, but fine for many adolescents… and a great read for adults!