by Harper Lee
Review by KM
Who doesn’t remember sitting in their English classroom and reading about Atticus Finch? I know a lot of us do and that To Kill a Mockingbird was one of our favorite required-reading books. Atticus gave us an idolized role model that used his privilege for the underdog; he was articulate, intelligent, and fair. I was so excited to see him in another book.
From the moment I knew there was a sequel coming out, I knew I was going to be getting it. I didn’t read the articles or listen to the hype. I probably should have.
Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—”Scout”—returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one’s own conscience.
I have a lot of feelings about this novel. I’m angry, betrayed, and relieved, in a sense. I think I feel the same way Jean Louise feels and I’m pretty sure that is intentional.
A lot of people are making a lot of noise about how Go Set a Watchman destroys Atticus’ character. Around a third into the book, when I slammed it down onto the counter and announced to my coworkers that I couldn’t go on, I would have agreed. There are reasons why it doesn’t. We were introduced to Atticus by an eight year old who idolized her father. I don’t believe she was meant to be an unreliable narrator, but anyone is going to have their bias. We trusted in that and we saw Atticus with no flaws. That’s why it was just as disturbing to me to see facets of his personality just as much as it disturbed Scout. Her personality evolves from the child we saw in Mockingbird to a strong young adult, making this her story rather than just her narration.
As a piece of literature, I think it’s a resounding success. I was transported directly to the town of Maycomb; Lee’s voice is so authentic that I’ve never found anything similar. It’s a slow, lazy climb to the plot, but it’s not noticeable. This is more a book of reflection than action. I’m pretty sure it’s being classified as an adult novel at the moment, but damn, I haven’t read a book that has totally defined New Adult for me until this one.
If you love Atticus or not, I suggest giving this a read. It will make you angry, but maybe we’re not meant to idolize people without any faults. They’re just hiding them and they’re bound to topple from that pedestal eventually.