To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
1959, Warner Books (and other editions), 288 pages, softcover
This modern classic, set in the segregated South of the 1930s, is the story of two young children who learn about life and the great character of their father, Atticus Finch, as he struggles with a difficult case in which he must defend a black man wrongfully accused of raping a white woman.
The story is told through the eyes of the younger child, a nine year old girl. This charming perspective, related in an authentic Southern dialect, makes for a surprisingly innocent way of tackling some rather tough topics. Catholic parents of today, who are forced to explain difficult topics such as abortion to their young children, will likely sympathize with this father and be impressed with how well he handles the situation.
Atticus, an aging lawyer and widowed father of two, is a man who spends his free time reading. His children find him somewhat boring and wish he could be more like their classmates' fathers who are young and athletic. As the story develops, the children begin to learn why their father is respected by those neighbors and friends whose opinions really count.
The story culminates in a court battle in which Atticus is assigned to defend an innocent black man in a hopelessly biased rape case. He is reluctant to take the case because he knows he has no chance of winning and is concerned about the emotional persecution his children will suffer in a community where racial tensions run high. Nevertheless, he knows he must do the right thing and proceeds with the case. The case itself and the man involved turn out tragically and the family goes through many difficult and even frightening things, but the book proves to be a great classic because of the great character development, the moral considerations the story addresses and the growth of the children as they suffer through the case with their father. It should provide a wealth of literary, historical and moral themes for teens or adults.
While the book could be studied as early as eighth grade, it would probably be understood more deeply a few years later, in mid-to-upper high school.
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Reviewed by Alicia Van Hecke (12-1-01)
Available from By Way of the Family