My daughter's seventh-grade English teacher read this book to her class this past spring. I had to read this in the seventh grade, too, and while I didn't hate it, I certainly didn't enjoy it. When my daughter came home talking about the book and asking questions, I found I had very little recollection of the book other than the fate of Tom Robinson and the shooting of the mad dog. I have always detested the death of dogs in fiction as a cheap shot, emotionally manipulative, an all-around despicable literary maneuver. As a twelve-year-old, I completely missed the point of that entire scene.
So I decided that I would reread the book so I could discuss it with my daughter. I brought home a a copy from the library, and one for my husband, too, who joined us in our group read.
This book knocked my socks off.
Clearly I read this book when I was too young to pick up on the many things that are hinted at through Scout's narration - things that she is too young to truly understand, but that an adult, or more experienced teen reader, would get. Also, the book was very upsetting to me at that age. A twelve-year-old can read a book about an innocent black man on trial for the rape of a white woman and believe that it just might turn out okay. Particularly with a man like Atticus representing him. An older reader would go in with much more cynicism and be more prepared for a more negative outcome. This difference in reading experiences makes me wonder how many other books were assigned reading that I think I read, but should probably go back and take another look at.
There are so many things I loved about this book. Scout, first and foremost. Although she was a likable kid to me when I first read the book, reading it this time with the awareness of the time in which she was growing up, and the fact that her mother is dead and her father is raising her with the help of Calpurnia - and later on, his sister - made me just adore her. I remember hating her aunt, but this time I could see where she was coming from, and how her motivation was simply to help Scout have a more secure future. And Atticus - oh, where do I start? Suffice it to say he is on my top-five literary crush list. What a man.
I'm so glad I reread this novel, and that my husband I read it along with my daughter, so we were able to discuss it and, I hope, help her to enjoy it and understand things about it that totally flew over my head when I read it at her age. I love the fact that her teacher took the time to read the book out loud to her class, so they could stop and discuss tricky elements of the book together, and talk about the historical perspective. When we had all finished reading it, we watched the movie together, and had a lot of fun talking about the film adaptation, what was the same, what was different, and why they may have made those choices. It was a lot of fun.
If you think you read this novel but read it years ago, take the time to give it another read. You won't be sorry. And if you've never read it but think you know the story, give it a try. It's a captivating read, one that I know I'll be picking up again.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (HarperCollins, 1960)