by Melanie Heuiser Hill
We are talking a lot these days at our house about Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman. As a family we listened to To Kill A Mockingbird, narrated by Sissy Spacek, last summer on our vacation. Everyone in the car was riveted to the story…but both of the kids will tell you they really didn’t like it.
I adore Harper Lee’s novel—the characters, the setting, the story, the writing. We spent much of eighth grade English on it, in my (possibly revisionist) memory, and I loved every minute of it. I am intrigued, challenged, and often convicted by the arguments made by those who do not adore it, however. Closer examination of this beloved classic this summer hasn’t “ruined” To Kill a Mockingbird for me, nor has Go Set A Watchman; rather, I’m seeing it through different eyes and thinking about things in new ways. This feels important. And I’ll make the dangerously loose claim that any book that gets people talking and reading like these two books have is a good book. (Of course there are exceptions—you just thought of some and so did I. Just go with it. You know what I mean.)
Last week, I went to look for books for kids about To Kill a Mockingbird and brought home a couple of novels recommended at my local independent bookstore. My girl reads much faster than I do—especially in the summer with its long reading hours—and so she agreed to read them and report back. I handed her I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora first. She read it in one sitting.
“You will love it,” she said.
“Did you love it?” I asked. Sometimes these opinions are mutually exclusive.
And so I read it. It’s a quickie and it did not disappoint. Very clever, great writing, many layers to enjoy but easy to read, and a wonderful “idea” for a story for young teens. My only complaint is that I wish it had been longer. It moves fast and is admirably compact…but the writing is so good, the characters so wonderful, their dialogue so witty, the story such a hoot, and the themes so important…well, I just would’ve enjoyed more of it.
Our conversation around this book has largely been about the role of technology, not the original classic around which the small novel revolves. Acampora’s book is full of social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, chat rooms—it’s all there. In fact, it is absolutely necessary to the plot, which is why I didn’t mind it at all.
I remain Luddite-like and cranky enough to be frustrated when these very contemporary (so contemporary I wonder how they get the book published before everything changes) social media platforms show up in books. Often, in children’s books especially, it feels like mentions of technology have been added in to make things seem more teen-friendly and “hip.” Since the social media scene is notoriously fast-changing (especially in how kids and teens use it), this seems short-sighted, not to mention unnecessary.
But I Kill the Mockingbird is actually dependent on the social media in what I’ll call “a good way.” What the kids do—which is create a situation in which To Kill A Mockingbird seemingly disappears and therefore becomes The Hot “New” Book Everyone Must Read—could not have been done in one summer without the exponential possibilities and catastrophes of social media.
PLUS—and this is important—these kids, all three going into high school, are not on screens and devices all the time. That would make a terrible book, in my opinion. They text and post and tweet and chat, etc., but that’s all summed up in efficient narration (because who needs to watch it unfold?) and we’re back to the action of the story, back to the large and important themes, back to the unique personalities and sweet friendship of the three main characters.
You do not have to have read To Kill A Mockingbird to enjoy I Kill the Mockingbird, but you will enjoy it more if you have. You’ll also enjoy it more if you’re generally well read—the chapter titles are very clever, as is the subtle homage to a whole shelf of well-loved books. I’m a fan. And so’s my kid. So we recommend it, the both of us. Take an afternoon in these last weeks of summer and have a read. Let us know what you think.