It is my great pleasure to add To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee to my list of Classics. Like many of you, I read this book in junior high, and I love it as much today as I did then. Lee came out of nowhere in 1960 with one of the most beloved novels of the century and then retreated back into hiding for the rest of her life... at least so far. (I like to think that she will have ten more books ready for us after she dies, sitting in her library for the world to take in). I do also have to comment that the notable exception in her reclusive ways is that she assisted Truman Capote with the marvelous work, In Cold Blood.
Without question, the most memorable aspect of the story for me is the characters. I am a total sucker for any big brother and little sister story because of the amazing relationship I have with my big brother, and I love the dynamic between Jem and Scout. Although they bicker like any siblings, she endearingly looks up to him and he unquestionably takes care of her. Tying them all together, Atticus is a phenomenal father in the story. Who doesn't fall in love with him? He has so many words of wisdom to pass on and such an admirable integrity. With little Scout as the narrator, we have a whole crew of unforgettable people in the story even beyond her family, including their friend Dill, the fiery Calpurnia, the evil Bob Ewell and the legendary Boo Radley. Lee also describes the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama so thoroughly that it becomes like one of the characters. It is easy to imagine the heat, gossip, rumors, religion, kindness and hatred that are all part of the town.
Another aspect of the story I adore is the courtroom trial. I am awfully fond of legal fiction, and I confess I even like to indulge in John Grisham novels. But there are some works of merit, like To Kill A Mockingbird, which place their climax in the courtroom itself and win me over completely. (Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities comes to mind as a great one, but my all-time favorite is definitely the trial in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.) The whole movement of Tom Robinson's trial is masterfully crafted. There are just so many dimensions to consider, like placement, timing, outburst, surprise, and suspense. I love the image of Jem and Scout watching from the "colored" balcony, determined to see their father in action. I also love the forced breaks we have as readers, when Scout leaves the courtroom with Dill and when Calpurnia drags the kids home. Atticus presides over the room nobly, clearly revealing Robinson's innocence and garnering the respect of all the African-Americans watching from above, in the balcony. And as the reader, I truly didn't know what the jury would decide.
Everything about this book is just thoroughly enjoyable. Moreover, the themes of courage, honor, and what it means to enter adulthood are extremely compelling and insightful. I think everyone walks away from the book with Atticus's words ringing in their ears and Scout's perspective sticking in their minds. It makes you believe in goodness despite the existence of evil, as well as the ever-important lesson, that "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."