The 10th book I completed this summer was Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, and I gave this book a 4.5/5.
This book is the continuation of Harper Lee’s American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. Many people have a strong connection to that first story, and have a fondness and a love for the characters, Scout, Jem, and especially Atticus. That first book was so impactful that there is an excellent movie about it. It is also highly doubtful that any American adult can say that they made it through high school without hearing about it in English class, if not actually reading it.
The point is, the first book has a high status in the literary community, so it surprised me that the sequel had such a conflicted reception. I heard that people were actually returning their copies to the bookstore and demanding refunds because they were so upset with the content. I intentionally avoided spoilers because I wanted to go into the story unbiased, and so my summary will not reveal too much for those who have not yet read it.
The story picks up nearly 20 after the events of the first book. It follows Jean Louise Finch (formerly known as Scout), as a young single woman coming home to Maycomb from her separate life in New York. Many things have changed over the years, but not Jean Louise’s love and respect for her father, Atticus. The times have changed, World War II has shifted the country, and once again, the matter of black and white is risen in the Finch family, although not a way Jean Louise ever expected. I will reveal no more.
After reading this book, I both understand why some people had such strong negative reactions to the story, and completely disagree with their assessments. What many are reacting to (without giving away too much), is the feeling that the “ideal” of the first book is being compromised by new events. Some may not know how to process that challenge, but after reading the book to the end, I know that that very conflict in feelings was the point of the whole endeavor.
I personally thought that the book was fantastic. I couldn’t put it down. The voice is different in this book, but the writing is no less beautiful. To Kill a Mockingbird had the observant and introspective first-person voice of a young Jean Louise recounting events that forged her identity and changed her little town, while Go Set a Watchman is written in a more subjective third-person voice, highlighting that the realities dealt with in the story, while personal to Jean Louise, transcend her to open up a very real, very complex conversation about race, history, ethics, conscience, and identity.
If you have read To Kill a Mockingbird, I urge you to do so. If you have, I urge you to read Go Set a Watchman.
If you have, what were your thoughts? Love it? Hate it? Confused? Comment below and let me know! I may post a more thorough review exploring specifics of the themes and content, so look out for that.