Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
2017 Book Challenge Entry: A book you’ve read before that never fails to make you smile
Thoughts: I’m not going to mince words. This is my favorite book. Ever. Of all time. I have a tattoo devoted to it. I’m an avid reader and I read a lot of good books and I have yet to find a book that does for me what this book does. While this book definitely makes me cry, like crazy, I also smile so. so. so. much when I read this book.
I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time in high school. I was 14 and it absolutely blew me away. I couldn’t stop talking about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Any time anyone asked me about my favorite books, it was always the first title that came out of my mouth. Since then, I’ve read it at least 10 times. In college, when I was homesick, boom. A couple years later, when I was in the throws of my first massive breakup, it was there. Again in college, as part of a course on family dynamics I read it again, which was super interesting because I was forced to look at it from an entirely different perspective.
The thing that always strikes me about this book is how I can read it over and over and over…and over and still find something new with each read. It’s like an ogre. Or an onion.
They both have layers.
This most recent read was one of the best. My husband, who I adore, is not a reader and had never read this book before. However, we are both determined to install in our daughter a love of reading. When we first brought her home, I was determined to nurse her. However, the universe had other plans and we ended up pumping and bottle feeding instead. In the middle of the night, I would pump and he would feed her. I usually finished my part before she was done eating, so there was time when we were both up and needed something to distract us from our ridiculous sleep deprivation. I started reading books out loud to him, and by proxy, to her. To Kill a Mockingbird was the first in what I am naming “The Midnight Series”.
To Kill a Mockingbird is told from the perspective of Jean Louise Finch, aka Scout. She is the younger sister of Jeremy (Jem) Finch and the daughter of Atticus Finch, a lawyer in their sleepy Alabama town circa 1930-something. The book spans a few years in the town and the adventures of Jem, Scout and the nephew of a neighbor, Charles Baker Harris, known as Dill. When the story begins, Jem and Scout have just met Dill and the three become a fiercely bonded trio making up stories and generally galavanting around during the summer. The way Harper Lee captures this time and this place is nothing short of genius. She is second to none in my opinion in the crafting of her characters and setting. Whenever I read this book, I feel completely transported back in time and somehow feel like I have intimate knowledge of a place I’ve never been to. She is absolutely incredible.
The book is kind of split into two sections. In the first part of the book, the kids have scapes at school, (especially precocious Scout), summer fun and life lessons from the best father in literature, Atticus Finch. We aren’t going to talk about Go Set a Watchman here. This is all Mockingbird and in this book, Atticus is the best father ever. He is smart, patient, understanding but holds his children to a high standard. He won’t tolerate them being less than, but he knows he isn’t perfect. His pearls of wisdom are classic and true and help the children deal with all the pitfalls that come with being poor and liberal in a town where most people are poorer and much more conservative than you. This dynamic proves to be a massive issue in the second part of the book. For the record. There are more smiles in the first part of the book than the second.
Along the way, while the children are trying to navigate the difficulties that have come with his father’s work as an attorney, they continue to meet up with Dill in the summers when he is in town though, as with all relationships, things evolve and change as the children grow. Jem, being the one who is becoming a teenager through the book, becomes moody and distant from his sister. She becomes alienated being the only girl and finds comfort in the company of some older women around her. Calpurnia, the family maid/cook is her surrogate mother and absolutely fantastic. The scene where the children join her at the black church in the country has always been one of my favorites.
Maudie Atkinson is another woman who makes an impression on the family. She isn’t married, she gardens in scrubby clothes, makes amazing cakes that she shares with the children and is generally her own woman. My mom always thought she and Atticus had a thing going. I like to think that’s true. Maudie also was a woman who, unlike her super uptight Aunt Alexandra, never told Scout that she had to wear a dress, be quiet, get married or change who she was. I. Love. Miss. Maudie.
About a third or halfway through the book, it comes out, in trickles, in the murmurs that a little girl hears from boring adults around her, that Atticus has taken a case that he is bound to lose. He is defending a black man, Tom Robinson, who is on trial for raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell. The fact that Atticus is defending a black man in 1930s Alabama causes a rift between him and the rest of the town. His children are the targets of ridicule at school, he himself is made out to be a fool and a traitor to his kind, but we root for him. We root for him because we know not only that Tom is innocent, but because Atticus takes the case knowing he can’t win it. He does what is right even though it is hard and impossible. It’s a beautiful example of the kind of person we should all strive to be. His actions do have consequences though and he finds out, in more than one way, that people will surprise you.
There are so many things about this book that I love, but I realized this last time reading through it why it makes me smile so much. Harper Lee captured something special, like lightning in a bottle. This book reminds me of my childhood. It reminds me of being at sleepovers and telling stories about that crazy guy down the street. It reminds me of running through my neighborhood with my younger brothers and making up quests to go on in the woods. It reminds me of the first time I realized my father was capable of more than I knew and the first time my mother really, really disappointed me. Mainly it reminds me that no matter what, no matter if you know you are going to lose, you have to stand up for what is right. You can’t let the bullies win. You can’t even let them think they are going to win. When the Atticus Finch’s of the world give up, we are all done for. We read this book to remind us of that, and to remind ourselves to keep fighting the good fight. Because even when we know we are going to lose, we might stall the jury a little longer each time out and eventually, we can change the verdict.