To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Reviewed by Diane K.M.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
OK, everyone needs to stop what you're doing and go find a copy of Sissy Spacek reading this book. I am not exaggerating when I say it is the best audiobook performance I have ever heard.
I have read To Kill a Mockingbird perhaps 10 or 12 times in my life, and it is one of my favorite books, but this was the first time I listened to it. Sissy was the perfect narrator for Scout, and she also did a fantastic job at all of the other voices. If you like audiobooks, this is a must-listen. (And if any publishers are reading this, please hire Sissy to narrate more Southern literature. Her voice is so soothing she could charm a cat out of a tree.)
What struck me about the story this time is how sadly relevant the issue of racial prejudice and inequality still is, even though the book was first published in 1960. At the heart of the novel is the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man who is accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell. What quickly becomes apparent is that Tom is innocent, and Mayella was actually beaten by her father, Bob Ewell, when he caught her trying to kiss a negro.
Atticus Finch, the hero of the novel, does his best to defend Tom, but the jury (and most of the town) convicts him anyway, and Tom is condemned to death. Atticus' two children, Jem and Scout, are deeply upset by the case, especially when Bob Ewell continues to threaten them.
This book reminded me of the police shooting and riots in Ferguson, Missouri, and of innumerable other stories in the news of African-Americans not being treated fairly by officers or the courts. I would like to find hope in what Atticus said when he's trying to explain the Tom Robinson case to Scout: "Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win."
There is so much to love in this book. Scout, whose real name is Jean Louise, is a tomboy and she is our narrator. The story occurs over several years, and we watch her grow up. Harper Lee has a terrific sense of humor, and Scout's antics always make me laugh.
One of Scout's best friends is a boy named Dill (a character reportedly inspired by Harper Lee's real-life friendship with Truman Capote) and at the start of the book, the kids are obsessed with a reclusive neighbor named Boo Radley. Boo is a mystery throughout the story, and when he finally appears, well, I usually have to wipe a few tears from my eyes.
Oh Harper Lee, why did you only write one book? This novel is a gem, a true American classic. It has been a favorite of mine since I first read it in 8th-grade English, and I think it has had an impact on every generation who reads it. And based on the news, it sounds like it is still needed.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
“The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience.”
“As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it — whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash.”
“I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks.”