Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Release Date - June 14, 2015
Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth
Like many, I have seen the publicity, followed the story, and I was going to read Go Set a Watchman despite what critics were saying. I loved To Kill a Mockingbird enough that I kept my high school copy. My teacher knows and, while I offered to pay for it, he said he was overjoyed that one student loved it so much they actually didn't want to return it. I still have my copy and reread it once a year.
I cannot imagine anyone reading Go Set a Watchman first, but if you are planning to and somehow dodged having to read TKaM in high school, Watchman will stand alone. You really do need to read both books, however, to understand how much Lee's writing progressed from her first written book to the highly-praised prequel.
Go Set a Watchman takes place after To Kill a Mockingbird, but it was apparently Harper Lee's first written book, though publishers rejected it, so she tucked it away and moved on to her bestseller, which is technically a prequel. The characters are familiar, and I can see exactly how this probably went down. It isn't as good, but it had such promise that the author took the notes in the rejection letters, considered building on one section from the story, and crafted her brilliant bestseller.
Jean Louis Finch (known to most as Scout) is back in Maycomb, Alabama. Now in her late-20s, Scout is grown up and the object of Henry "Hank" Clinton's affections. Jem's dead, but Hank has been taken under Atticus's wing and hopes to convince Scout to marry him and stay in Maycomb for good.
While in Maycomb, Scout quickly learns that the people she's loved for so many years have changed, or maybe her childhood self never saw them the way they truly were. It's her father who she fears has changed the most, and that leads to her awakening. The people you think you know best are not as they seem.
Anyone who reads the news knows that critics are panning this book calling Atticus a racist. I really think you need to read the story, the whole story. Atticus is not that different to how he was in To Kill a Mockingbird. It all goes back to the famous quote: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view." Every critic to say Atticus is a racist is forgetting that very important lesson. There is a reason some of Atticus's viewpoints have changed and if you read the entire book, you understand. It makes sense, especially given the era when this story was written and takes place.
I cannot say that Go Set a Watchman is as good as To Kill a Mockingbird. It's not. It does, however, capture the 1950s, the changes people faced, and the biases that still exist today. Anyone who says we have evolved from racism need to wake up and look at how transgenders, gays, and immigrants are treated today.