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4.7 out of 5 stars
10,102
To Kill a Mockingbird
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on July 8, 2017
The setting for this book is the fictional town of Macomb, Alabama in the mid 1930s. The narrator of the story is Jean Louise "Scout" Finch, a 10 year old tomboy. Her father, Atticus Finch, is a lawyer who is defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. The likelihood of a black man getting a fair trial in the south in the 1930s is about 1 in a million...optimistically speaking.

Scout gets some valuable life lessons from her father. She sees that doing the moral thing, is not always an easy, or popular, or safe thing to do. But it's the <i>right</i> thing to do. She also learns that everybody deserves to be treated with dignity and to receive justice, no matter what their skin color.

I first read TKAM in high school 50 years ago. I re-read it, as I'm sure many others have, in preparation for reading the recently published "To Set a Watchman". I was touched deeply by this story in 1967. And I'm touched just as deeply in 2017. Harper Lee made us stare prejudice and injustice in the face, and made us want to aspire to be an Atticus Finch. A flag-waving 5 stars!
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on May 12, 2017
I read it in high school as an assignment and missed the voice while struggling with the plot. I wanted it plain back then. What I got the second time, fifty years later, was a voice of innocence and wonder and wisdom in a story that was far more than plot. I missed Scout and Jem the first time because I was so worried about Boo and Tom. I missed the birthing of civil rights because all I could see was a trial. Harper Lee may have had only one good story in her, but I'm grateful she told it perfectly.
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on June 19, 2017
I have somehow managed to avoid reading To Kill a Mockingbird my entire life. Whenever the old movie was on tv, I'd flip by it, dismissing it as 'courtroom drama'. I knew from being alive in the modern era that it was somehow about racism. Finding myself out of work with nothing better to do I decided to read books from one of those '100 Books Everyone Should Read' lists, starting with this one. I thought I'd be stuck in some period drama written in stilting, formal tones and bored to tears within the first chapter.

I was so wrong. Harper Lee is an amazing writer. Her tale of kids and their summer adventures really would have been enough. I stood in my hallway after the book downloaded & completely forgot that I was going to another room. I was completely sucked in by Scout, Jem & Dill's antics in trying to lure the elusive Boo Radley from his house. And because I fell in love with fierce little Scout I was ready to fight the townfolk myself when the controversy over her father's defense of Tom Robinson came to call on the Finch family.

Yes, it is still relevant today - town rumors and conjecture take the stage much like hysterical media does today, and injustice is served. But it's also a beautiful little vignette of summertime in a small town, a place where adventures are always there for the bold and imaginative.
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on August 11, 2015
In light of the fact that the long lost first version of this story is coming out, I have decided to sit down and reread this book. I am so glad I did. What a joy to read, it was like revisiting an old friend. I had the opportunity to refresh my memory in the funny parts and the sad parts and the brave parts and the scary parts.

I have always associated this book with the trail and the story of the father defending a black man. This must come from my vague memories of watching the movie in the classroom.

However, I realized that I missed this whole 'nother story' of the Boo Radley and Jem and Scout. This sub story really brought home the feel of small town southern life with the fear of the house and the man in the house because he's not known, like everything else around them.

Additionally, the details that you can read about in the book that make things seem more real or believable stuck out at me. The flowers in the corner of the lot were Mayelle lives brings home the misery of the small home she lives in and makes everything all that more understandable in some sad way. Dill with his stories of life 'back home' helps bring home how really lucky Jem and Scout are with their father. And many other countless examples.

It is things like this that made this book a classic and have kept it a classic. It is the great writing and the story told through Scout's eyes that bring it all together to make this the book that brought home the times and the culture to a nation (and now a generation) who might never have otherwise seen it.

Well worth the money and well worth reading and rereading.
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on October 5, 2014
In one of the best starts to a book that I can remember, this classic Pulitzer Prize winner begins with a quote:

"Lawyers, I suppose, were children once
--Charles Lamb"

Writing this review feels a little too much like a high school English assignment so I'm going to keep it (somewhat) brief. It's an incredible book, and every bit deserves its Pulitzer and place on many Top 100 lists.

Once you've suspended your disbelief that your 8-yr old tom-boy narrator, Scout, is a natural wordsmith with an uncanny talent for deconstructing the messy, complex adult world into powerful and moving observations you'll love it.

Scout's father Atticus is a beacon of progressive thought and moral standing in deeply racist 1930s Alabama. This from Miss Maudie:

"What I meant was, if Atticus Finch drank until he was drunk he wouldn't be as hard as some men are at their best. There are just some kind of men who - who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results."

And I completely agree with his philosophy on answering kids' questions, here he reproaches his brother after he evades Scout's question about the meaning of "whore-lady":

"Jack! When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness' sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em."

This quote also shows his intense desire to be the best he can, when faced with a moral crisis right at the end of the book:

"Sometimes I think I'm a total failure as a parent, but I'm all they've got. Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I've tried to live so I can look squarely back at him...if I connived at something like this, frankly, I couldn't meet his eye, and the day I can't do that I know I've lost him. I don't want to lose him and Scout, because they're all I've got."

Some spoilers coming. If you didn't read it in high school, you should go read it now.

There are some incredibly powerful scenes in the book, particularly Atticus camping outside the jail to protect his client. Scout defuses an angry mob with a big dose of childish naivete that humanises and personalises Atticus, changing him from the man defending the subject of the mob's hatred, to a father and neighbour.

After the dramatic events of the trial, the denouement seems a little weird. Basically you know there's something bad still coming, and we just have to sort of wait around for it to show up. Once it does show up it's shocking, and Scout's simple "Hey, Boo", after the dramatic events is incredibly raw and emotional.

"Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives."

5 stars.

Read more of my reviews at g-readinglist.blogspot.com
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on July 10, 2017
Why did I wait so long to read this one? When I was in school and started on the list of books everyone should read, I was so horrified with Lord of the Files (the second one on the list) that I vowed never again to read something because I should.

Of course the writing is wonderful, it did win a Pulitzer prize. Harper Lee does a fantastic job writing in a child’s voice without sounding childish. It’s a rare gift to write a series of everyday moments without once sounding tedious or boring.

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
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on May 22, 2016
All that is left to determine is where this book would be placed by serious readers, thoughtful readers, in a list of the Top Five Great American Novels. OR, Top Five Works of Fiction Written By An Earthling. What do you mean, you haven't read it yet? Or, you found it slow going when you were an inexperienced teenager? Aren't you worried about not reading this and maybe being hit by a truck and departing this world before doing so? If not, you should be.

Almost every High School junior in the USA is made to read this in Junior English class -- if you felt pushed into reading it then, and were the typical rebellious teen who sort of refused to , or went to the Cliff Notes or something, then you, my dear, deprived yourself and were really lacking in judgment. That's okay, because you're still here, and can either order this book at a discount, or go to the local library.
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on July 18, 2015
It seems strange to be as old as I am and have to admit there are two things I haven't seen in life that just about everybody in the world has seen.
Well, now there's only one, and that's the movie, The Sound of Music.
The other was this book, To Kill a Mockingbird, and having just finished it I can understand what all the fussin' was about.
It's a helluva story, well told.
I came to it because like millions of other people I've been suckered by the marketing people who have convinced us that Lee Harper actually did have another book in her, and now they've miraculously found it and published it as the book coup of the millenium.
So, it made sense to read this one first, otherwise, as someone in The New Yorker pointed out, how could you possibly understand Go Set a Watchman if you hadn't first read Mockingbird and understood who Atticus and Jem and Scout all are.
Now I do. So now I'm ready.
But there's no chance in hades that I'll be seeing Sound of Music. Man's got to hold on to some things.
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on September 2, 2015
If ever there were a book I would consider voting for as the “Great American Novel”, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is the one…the only one. It is hard for me to say that there is a one great anything. Times change, technology improves, and social views evolve. In short, we are never the same from one generation to the next and trying to pick anything that spans the gap and the differences as the greatest of all is difficult, if not a complete waste of time.

When it comes to literature, there are so many fine books and so many great writers that trying to narrow the selection to the “one great one” interferes with valuable reading time…generally. But then there is To Kill A Mockingbird.

Harper Lee’s story takes place in the small southern Alabama town and county of Maycomb during the depression era 1930’s. She paints a picture of the community and the people populating it through the eyes of Scout (Jean Louise Finch) the daughter of a prominent local attorney, Atticus Finch. As the book opens, Scout is preparing to begin her first year in grade school.

She and her brother Jem and friend Dill pass the summer doing the things children did before the age of video games and twenty-four hour television. They played. They entertained themselves. They went on adventures. They told stories about the frightening, recluse who lives on the corner. They were children.

They did all of this under the watchful eyes of Calpurnia, the black woman who is housekeeper and surrogate mother to the family. Scout describes her as “all angles and bone…with a hand as wide as a bed slat and twice as hard…”

In the Finch household, Cal is treated as an equal, a partner in the upbringing of the children and an indispensable member of the family. That is in the Finch household. Outside their small world, things are different in the community of Maycomb.

I find Calpurnia to be one of the most interesting of characters in the story. She is a strong and independent black woman who makes her way in the world dominated by whites. Scout is amazed on one occasion when visiting at Cal’s church that she spoke differently to other blacks, using their particular colloquialisms and dialect. It was very different from the way she spoke with Scout and Jem in the Finch home. Scout had no idea that Calpurnia lived this “double life” relating differently to the two cultures in Maycomb.

In short, racial prejudice reigns, as was common in the time. Blacks, Negroes as polite members of the community called African Americans in that day, are second-class citizens with a place in the universe of Maycomb that is always inferior to the whites. Even the most white-trashy, ignorant, slovenly of whites holds a place in the community superior to any of the blacks.

As a southerner who grew up in the south in the 1950s, I remember the “Jim Crowe” days. I went to schools that were not desegregated. I saw white only water fountains and restrooms. Black children were to be treated kindly, but we did not associate as a rule. They had their world. We had ours.

As Scout paints a picture of Maycomb through the experiences she shares with Jem and Dill, it begins as a sort of “Mayberry-esque”, idyllic memoir of her childhood. But events open her eyes to the underlying darkness of their culture. Maycomb is not the perfect little world she thought.

She is guided by her father, Atticus, through the twisting cultural maze she inhabits. He teaches her not to judge others, but to get in their shoes and walk around a while to see how the world looks from their perspective. Most importantly, never kill a mockingbird because all they do is sing and bring happiness without harming anyone else. Atticus is the rock in Scout's world, giving her rope to explore and float about on the sea, but always there to anchor her safely.

Brother Jem (short for Jeremy) and friend Dill are her conscience and mentors in a way. Dill, rambunctious but sensitive, opens her eyes to things she had missed in their small community. Jem, sees and struggles with the contradictions around them...white people they have known all their lives as good people, doing things and saying things that they know to be wrong.

Through her innocence and confused effort to understand what is happening around her, we see that things are socially complicated. Whites harboring racial prejudice are not all evil as Scout describes their interactions. Instead, you get the feeling that they are ignorant, not seeing the contradictions in their lives, one instant treating a black member of the community in a courteous friendly manner, the next making sure they understand their place in the community…second class.

Some, however, are evil. The Ewells are the evilest of them all. Their conflict with Atticus and his defense of a black man, Tom Robinson, accused but innocent of a terrible crime leads to a chilling climax in the concluding chapters.

In the event that there is someone who has not read the book or seen the movie, I will not include any plot spoilers here. Just know that it is a gripping story with a conclusion that keeps you on the edge of your seat before Lee allows you to take a breath in the final chapter.

The prose is superb. The story is engaging and riveting. There are moments that will make you smile, others that will make you angry and some that might bring tears to your eyes.

Most of all, Harper Lee’s use of a little girl, Scout, to bring the narrative to life is masterful. It is not a children’s book, but through the eyes of a child, we see ourselves and the world around us. For me, that is why To Kill A Mockingbird is the great American novel. It spans the gap of generations, and through Scout’s eyes, looks into our soul.
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on February 22, 2016
The Story of Scout, Jem, Dill, Atticus Finch and the Trial of Tom Robinson is a timeless classic. Told in the first person, Scout, Jean Louise Finch, introduces to life in he small southern town of Maycomb, Alabama in the early 1930's. Scout tells us how it was to go to in the first grade and how she meets her friend Dill. Dill is based on Harper Lee's real life friend, Truman Capote. The story is well written and keeps you involved. Scout encounters racism as her father is asked to defend a black man against rape charges. One of the subplots involves the children trying to get Boo Radley, a mysterious neighbor to "come out". I read this story again so I could read "Go Set a Watchman." it is a good book.
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