To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee Review 5/5

Overall Impression: A beautiful, deeply moving book about the best and worst humanity has to offer.To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

How strange is it that I decided To Kill a Mockingbird was going to be my next read only a few days before everybody was in uproar about Michael Gove axing it from the UK English curriculum? Could there have been a more perfect time for me to start reading this, when everyone is feeling so passionate about it?
To Kill a Mockingbird has always been one of those novels I felt everyone except me had read. I wasn’t given the option to study it at school and for years and years people’s pop culture references about Atticus, Scout and Boo Radley were utterly lost on me. Before diving in all I knew about Lee’s famous tale was that it was set in the south and tackled the topic of racism, but this novel has so much more to offer than that.
This book was also read as part of The Rory Gilmore Challenge.

‘Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’
Atticus Finch gives this advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of this classic novel – a black man charged with attacking a white girl. Through the eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Lee explores the issues of race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s with compassion and humour. She also creates one of the great heroes of literature in their father, whose lone struggle for justice pricks the conscience of a town steeped in prejudice and hypocrisy.

When I reach for words to describe Lee’s writing style I keep coming back to the same one over and over again, beautiful. This book was a pleasure to read, it flows wonderfully; as if writing were as easy as breathing. Lee’s prose ebbed and flowed from one line to another seamlessly. When I try to put it into words all I can compare it to is being rocked smoothly in a boat or falling asleep to the rhythm of a train. Her style was calming and comforting, yet Lee’s power was not only in what she said, but also in what she didn’t say. Lee’s crisp imagery presents a believable picture of small town life, the characters loved to gossip and picked out the slightest discrepancy yet showed resilience in a crisis, banding together to look after their own. I could picture every setting so clearly, the Radleys’ front porch, the courthouse, the magical notch in the tree.

This is an accessible novel as classics go, it’s use of language is straight forward never becoming long-winded or overindulgent. It does use southern dialect but it’s easy to understand and I fell into the rhythm of it quickly. I found myself marking page after page because of a beautiful description or quote. I soon realised that if I marked everything I wanted to I wouldn’t finish the book until Christmas and had to admit defeat!

I viewed this novel as having two distinct sections, the first half follows a young girl named Scout, her brother, Jem and their friend, Dill who become obsessed with Boo Radley, a mysterious recluse who lives down the street. The children get bored during the summer months and begin to come up with schemes that will make Boo come out of his house. The second half of the novel deals with a court case Scout’s father, Atticus is working on in which he defends a black man named Tom against a rape charge, sending the town into uproar. Come to think of it when you describe the basics it doesn’t sound all that exciting, but trust me, it is.

This novel is a real grower, while I was interested from the beginning I found it slow moving at first and had difficultly reading more than one or two chapters at a time. Scout and Jem’s antics were fun and I enjoyed learning about their lives but the story didn’t seem to be rooted in any kind of central plot, which made me feel like I was wandering around without much purpose. However, I slowly became more fascinated by the Radley mystery and once I hit the second half dealing with the court case I couldn’t stop reading, I continued right though to the end of the book finishing it at 5am. I had this persistent feeling that I couldn’t put it down until I finished it, as if the story was so important that I had to sit there and follow it though to the very end. After I did finish it I couldn’t go to sleep, I just sat there thinking for another hour while the sky outside grew lighter.

Lee’s tale is set during the 1930s, post American civil war but pre the peak of the civil rights movement and in the midst of the great depression where money was scarce and tensions were high. The whole town is still heavily prejudiced so the idea of Scout’s father representing a black man and believing his story over the word of a white family evokes a severe reaction. This allowed for some brilliant social commentary about fear, human nature and the justice system. It also dealt with classism, sexism and the failings of the education system. I often found myself clenching my fists in anger or tearing up at the unfairness of it all, sometimes both at once. One scene in particular in which a teacher taught the children about Hitler and how persecution was morally wrong showed a complete blindness to the reality of how some of their own community were acting and left me enraged. No matter how old I get I don’t seem to become desensitized towards the persecution of others and I’m glad of that, the alternative is a scary thought.

Having said this, To Kill a Mockingbird is also a surprisingly uplifting novel considering its subject matter and often made me smile and laugh out loud. As the book is narrated from a child’s point of view (while also occasionally dipping into adult knowledge that allows for hindsight) everything is looked at with an element of naivety and innocence. Scout still believes that people are inherently good and has a childish wonder when she looks at the world, unaware of many social norms. Therefore her straight forward questions often stumped the adults and made them think about the world they lived in. It added a great layer to the book.

I fell in love with all the key characters in this novel, but even the minor ones were fleshed out, often showing that first impressions were not always as they seemed. Scout was brilliant, at first I actually thought she was a boy because she was so boisterous and forthright. Later I realised this was intentional because the other characters often commented on how Scout’s behaviour was unseemly for a female. She was so sassy and vibrant, many of her remarks made me laugh and I respected how she held her own with the boys. I will never forget her hilarious ham outfit for the school pageant. I always have a soft spot for characters who subvert their societal roles and Scout definitely fits into that category. But it also made me sad, I worried about what would happen when she grew up and whether she would be forced to change and become a ‘respectable’ lady. Jem, Scout’s older brother while not as likable still made for an interesting read. Because he was older the novel essentially showed the corruption of his innocence and I found it fascinating to see how his perception of the world changed and how he dealt with it.

Boo Radley was of course, fascinating and I still find my thoughts wandering back to him occasionally. I won’t say too much about him though for fear of giving things away for those who haven’t read the book.
However, my final comment must be for Scout’s father, Atticus Finch. What a remarkable man. How could you ever sum up his moral conviction, his quiet strength, his wisdom and faith in the human race even when it is capable of such horrendous deeds. He’s the lynch pin in this novel who keeps everyone on the right path and prevents them from becoming bitter. He is truly one of the most wonderful characters in literature I’ve ever come across.

I could never do this book justice, not in a million years, but I hope from this review you can tell that it’s pretty darn awesome. I couldn’t pick out even one minor fault, it’s got to be as close as you can get to perfection and it’s jumped straight onto my favourites pile. If you haven’t already read this book! Or maybe even reread it. I’m sure this is one where you get something different out of it with each reading and I hope I will be able to return to it again at some point in my lifetime. I would recommend this novel to anyone male or female 12+ who is interested in American history (but doesn’t want to be bludgeoned over the head with it), the horrors of prejudice and the quiet strength of the human soul.

Writing Style: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Entertainment: 5/5
Character Development: 5/5
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely.

Overall Impression: 5/5

 

Image Sources:
Book Cover.

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52 thoughts on “To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee Review 5/5

  1. What a wonderful review! You’ve made me want to reread To Kill a Mockingbird again. I agree with everything you’ve said in this review, particularly your points about Atticus – he really is such a wonderful character! Great review 🙂

    • Aww thank you, Gemma. 🙂 I’m so glad it had that effect! It’s great to hear that you fell in love with this book as well. Atticus was such a powerful character, he was like this steadfast pillar that represented everything good and virtuous within the town around the confusion and chaos. He will stick with me for a long time!

    • Shame on our schools for neglecting our education! 😛
      It’s definitely worth reading, Katie. I don’t know why but the story never sounded that interesting to me even though I knew so many people loved it. That’s why it took me this long to pick up and now I wish I had read it sooner! Try and put it a little higher in your tbr pile if you can, you won’t regret it. 🙂

  2. I didn’t know about the book being axed. I really don’t understand how those decisions are made, but it’s too bad if it results in fewer people, especially young people, reading this great novel. Mockingbird is one of the few books I can read over and over. You did a great job of capturing its brilliance. (Oh, and I love Rory Gilmore)

    • Yepp, Gove decided that the novels children should be reading at secondary school should be primarily from UK authors, so famous classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men have been axed. There’s been a huge uproar about it and I haven’t seen anyone pro the change! I’m kind of secretly hoping there may be a positive backlash to Gove, when someone says you can’t read something the more you want to read it. I’m always trying to look for a silver lining. 🙂
      Thank you, from someone who has read the book several times that means a lot. 🙂 Rory is awesome!

  3. yes,yes,yes isnt that the way of a good read, the ones that effect to the very soul . also the name atticus, such a wise choise of a well read reader, must look up his works and place named after. mocking-b , blue-j , finch ???
    a passionate and well wrote reveiw
    5/5

    • It definitely is, the best books are always the ones that resonate with you most! You’re right, Atticus is a great name. I’ve only ever come across it in reference to this novel and I think that makes it seem all the more special. Names are important in books and can even affect your opinions of a character.

      Thank you. 🙂

  4. You’ve convinced me. Going to buy it right now.

    Okay, actually it’s night here, and my town doesn’t have a bookstore, but luckily I bought this one a while ago and it has been gathering dust on my shelf since. I think you’ve just convinced me to move it to the top of the TBR pile.

    • YES. My review mission is complete, I’m so glad to hear that!

      I always think night is the best time to read, everything somehow seems more plausible at night, even the idea of dragons and werewolves. I hope you enjoy reading To Kill a Mockingbird and I can’t wait to see what you think. 🙂

  5. One of the best books ever written.
    Given the almost universal positive reviews for this book, it’s not surprising that Lee has never published anything else (She might have stuff stuck in a locker somewhere). There’s no way to top such a great book.

    Great and moving review – made me want to read it again. In fact, I’ll fetch it off my bookshelf and put it on my summer reading list!

    • Agreed, at least of the ones I’ve read so far!
      I definitely think it was a smart move, how on earth could you ever top a first novel like this? Everything else would likely be an anti-climax. I feel like she poured her entire heart and soul into this one book.

      Thank you, I’m so glad it’s made you want to reread it. 🙂

  6. SO thrilled that you enjoyed this. It’s one of the most fantastic stories and I think it will stand the test of time forever and a day.

    I’m due for a reread really; the last time I read it I think I was around 15/16 in school. Fabulous, fabulous review. You captured all of my own thoughts and feelings and hit on all of the important points. It has some of the most wonderful characters of all time: Scout, Atticus Finch (hands down one of the most moral, upstanding and brilliant literary fathers out there) and Boo Radley of course. (I love the song ‘Wake Up Boo’ by the Boo Radleys because, obviously, it reminds me of Boo!)

    Watch the black and white film with Gregory Peck in! He’s a fab Atticus. Also, the girl who plays Scout is really good too. It really brings the story to life 🙂

    • Thanks Charl, I’m so happy I was able to join the I heart Harper Lee bandwagon!

      Gosh, that is quite a long time ago! Definitely worth considering a reread. Awh, thank you. 😀 This one took me longer to write than most because I kept going back and tweaking it, I wanted it to be right and I had a bit of trouble deciding what I wanted to say.
      The character were really what made this book for me, there are plenty of authors that write about these topics and cover the time period and prejudice well, but my love for Scout, Atticus and all the others tied it together perfectly in a pretty little bow.
      I’m going to have to look up that song now!

      I actually watched the film the week after I finished it. I recorded it over Christmas when they were showing all the old classics like Gone With the Wind and Casablanca etc., but I waited until I had read the book to watch it (in true bookworm style). I thought it was great but the book was, naturally, better. 😉

  7. Beautifully written review Becky. You have an awesome way with words yourself. Have you ever thought of writing a book? Seriously! Now I want to read this story even more – I can’t believe I have never read it with my lifelong addiction to reading!! I downloaded it right after you and I initially talked about it. Now to see where I can fit it in with all the exciting new releases this summer :).

    • Thank you so much, Cindy, that’s really kind of you to say! I would be lying if I said the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. 😉
      I’m so happy to hear that you downloaded it, I can’t wait for you to read it because I know you’re going to love it! It’s a truly beautiful book and well worth reading. Agh, I hear ya, it’s so tough choosing which books to pick for your summer reads.

  8. Great review, I’m so glad you enjoyed it, it would have been awful if you waited so long to read it and then hated it!

    I did read it at school but I still love it, I think it’s amazing that you get to feel like you actually are pay off Jem and Scout’s childhood and Atticus is such a genuine hero I love him! I also kind of love that it doesn’t have a traditional happy ending, it makes the whole thing feel more true.

    • Thank you. 🙂 Yes, agreed! I felt quite nervous before picking it up for that very reason.

      I’m sad that I didn’t get to read this in school, but I do also wonder if I would have fully appreciated it back them. My English classes tended to put me off books rather than make me feel passionate about them so maybe it’s better I came to it in my own time. Definitely, I liked that this novel unlike The Help by Kathryn Stockett didn’t have everything end too happily ever after. 🙂

      • It’s true, most people I know hated whatever they were forced to read but I think I got lucky! I can even appreciate The Charge of the Light Brigade these days although that is due to the significant amount of time that’s passed since school!

        Happy ever afters have their place but it’s nice for a book like this to reflect the reality of the situation – there’s no way Tom would ever have got off guilty or not so it’s only right for the book to have that as its ending.

      • Yepp, I was definitely one of those people! Ha, ohh yeah, the damn Charge of the Light Brigade I remember doing that. Incredibly sad, but I began to lose my perspective on it after the teachers yacked on about it for so long.

        Agreed. I like my happily ever after stories as much as anyone but this one wouldn’t have felt right if everyone got the ending they wanted.

  9. Ahhh a wonderful review missy! Like you, I never studied this one at school, but it’s constantly been on my radar and I keep meaning to pick it up. What can I say, your review has definitely convinced me! It sounds so inspirational and beautiful. Sorry for slow responses (again!) xx

  10. I think your description of the text is perfect – it is such a beautiful book! Sad to think that it was Harper Lee’s only published work, but so glad that she shared it with the world because it’s a very important and lovely story. Great review!

  11. Wonderful review, Becky! This is a fabulous book and it deserves your wonderful, authentic review. You hit on all the major points: how Lee’s writing style is straightforward and effective, how the book touches on so many important and ubiquitous themes, and how the story is laced with hope. It makes me so happy that you enjoyed this novel and that you’re sharing its beauty on your blog.

    • Thank you, Thomas! Gosh, it’s lovely of you to call it authentic, especially when it’s a classic book that has been commented on endlessly. Confession: I find classics the hardest to review, because what can you say that hasn’t already been said over and over? I’m always worried I will sound superficial.
      I do feel that the ubiquitous themes are key to this novel, it’s why so many people have fallen in love with it. 🙂 And yes, hope is such a key player. Amongst all the horror, prejudice and injustice there are tiny, tiny signs of a few people beginning to change their views and it gives the reader, and the town hope that things can change and become better.

  12. Wonderful review! I never studied the book at school either and although my friends who did think I’m mad for saying this, I’ve been meaning to pick it up for a long time. It’s especially good knowing you found Lee’s writing style a pleasure to read; not knowing too much about the book I was worried it might be written in older English (which I struggle with more than I’d like to admit…) Thanks for the inspiration! 🙂

    • Thank you, Emma! I’m glad you liked it. 🙂
      Yes, I completely understand, the difficulty of the language is always a worry when attempting a classic but I promise you, you will fall into this one easily. It’s no more difficult than reading a literary book published in 2012, it still feels up to date and modern and while the characters have southern accents, this usually only means dropping the last letter in a word like “eating” to “eatin’. ” 🙂

      I’m glad it inspired you!

  13. Becks, you have no idea how livid I was when I heard what your Education minister had done. TKAM is a novel that transcends all cultural and geographical barriers. I did it in high school and how it made me cry!!!!
    It’s rightfully a classic and your statements about Atticus couldn’t be more spot on! 😀

    • I was livid too. I mean, I understand a little bit of the thinking behind SOME of his suggestions but his ideas of how to rectify them are ludicrous. Getting rid of To Kill a Mockingbird and other writers who aren’t from the UK is so dumb to me. Books teach us about the world around us, it’s important to know about other cultures not just our own. Grr!

      Thank you. 😀

  14. What a brilliant review 🙂 I couldn’t have come close to describing this book as well as you’ve done here. I also thought Scout was a boy at first! Which made my feminist kudos collapse somewhat… The other half and I were lucky enough to see an adaptation for stage last year which was fabulously done – on a 360 degree stage!

    I actually now fancy a reread…..

    • Thank you so much. 🙂 That’s funny because as I was writing this review I kept thinking to myself that I could never do this book justice, I think it’s one of those amazing tales that has to be experienced to understand its full power.
      Glad to know it wasn’t just me that thought Scout was a boy! I got really confused when I realised she wasn’t.
      Wow that sounds amazing! You lucky thing. I would love to see a stage version.

      Do it. 😉 Dare ya.

  15. Great review (: and an honour to ‘meet’ the lady who made Michael Cargill read a fiction book! haha.

    This is one of my favourite books. I read it a good few years ago now, but I still think about it often. The sign of a good book, in my opinion! Absolutely beautifully written. I, unlike a lot of people it seems, did get the chance to study it at school, but I had read it a few years prior as well, at the recommendation of my year 6 teacher! My favourite quote was ‘I never loved to read. One doesn’t love breathing’. (:

    • Thank you. 🙂 Haha, I know right? I couldn’t believe it!

      It’s become one of my favourites too. Definitely the sign of a good book! I couldn’t believe how smooth Lee’s prose were. I’ve never come across anything quite like it.
      It’s great the you got to study To Kill a Mockingbird in school, I bet you have way more insight into some of the themes and back story than most of us do!

      Love that quote as well. 🙂 I wrote down a tonne of them while reading with the intention of putting some in the review but I could NOT pick which ones to showcase! So in the end I didn’t use any.

      • I don’t think I have more insight than anyone else, if I’m honest (: a lot of people weren’t interested, so while the teacher tried really hard, there wasn’t really much of a discussion. It’s a shame that people wouldn’t give it a chance because reading isn’t ‘cool’ ):

        Plus, because I was rereading for the third time I think it was and had discussed it with my year 6 teacher one-to-one, a lot of the things that the teacher was saying I had already considered (:

      • Wow, really? That’s such a shame! Mind you, I remember that the people in my English classes weren’t that keen to discuss the books either. Luckily, we had a really amazing teacher that managed to make it fun and interesting anyway but boy, he had to work hard. 🙂 It always amazes me how people aren’t even willing to give reading a go because it’s such a fun thing.

        That’s true, after reading it so much you must learn a lot about the book. I hope I will get the opportunity to reread this book at least once, it’s definitely worthy of it!

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