“The only thing I’m afraid of about this country is that its government will someday become so monstrous that the smallest person in it will be trampled underfoot, and then it wouldn’t be worth living in.” – Dr. Jack Finch, “Go Set a Watchman”
I remember whining when my mother forced my siblings and I to watch To Kill a Mockingbird, but I’ve since come to deeply appreciate the powerful concepts behind this groundbreaking novel. For this reason I was beyond thrilled to get my hands on a copy of Harper Lee’s sequel, Go Set a Watchman, as I settled in for a couple of months of heavy summer reading.
In brief, Harper Lee still has it – the ability to craft characters and dialogue that create a magical sense of nostalgia that is so familiar, so real, that you would almost be willing to swear that you were reading about your own family. This novel allows us to catch up with Scout – the spunky tomboy from To Kill a Mockingbird – as she returns to her hometown after growing up in the big city of New York. As she returns, Scout is plunged neck-deep into fun hometown memories, but is also saddened by how things have changed. One thing remains the same, however, and that is the racial and socio-economic prejudice which robbed her of her childhood in the first place.
The novel had me laughing out loud and shaking my head in appreciation as Scout remained true to herself and single-handedly offended an entire town. It did contain a few instances of strong language, however, and should only be recommended for readers at the high school level and beyond.
Like its predecessor, Go Set a Watchman deals with some very heavy concepts, and for better or for worse, it will be impossible for any reader to set this book down unchanged. What do we do when we realize that our greatest heroes are mere humans? Is it acceptable to bend our ideals and moral beliefs – even in the slightest – when the world around us demands that we do so? And when it becomes painfully obvious that our ideals are not compatible with the ideals of those we love most, can we preserve the relationship or must we say good-bye forever? In the novel Scout finds her answers to these questions, but every reader – every human being, for that matter – must find these answers for themselves.
Harper Lee is known for saying that “the book to read is not the one that thinks for you, but the one which makes you think.” Once again, Lee has given us just that – a literary gem which promises to make us think – and does not disappoint.
“It’s always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are.” – “Go Set a Watchman”