To Kill a Mockingbird—the twentieth century's most widely read American novel—has sold thirty million copies and still sells a million yearly. Yet despite her book's perennial popularity, its creator, Harper Lee, has become a somewhat mysterious figure. Now, after years of research, Charles J. Shields brings to life the warmhearted, high-spirited, and occasionally hardheaded woman who gave us two of American literature's most unforgettable characters—Atticus Finch and his daughter, Scout. (Amazon)
Reviewed by Julie, Children's lit enthusiast and pop culture geek
In this comprehensive biography, Charles J. Shields hopes to reveal the woman behind America's most beloved book.
I loved reading MOCKINGBIRD, which delves into letters, news articles, interviews, etc. to paint a portrait of such a mysterious writer. Shields writes with enormous respect for Harper Lee and her wishes for privacy, but his insights gave me a greater sense of who Harper Lee is, what her life is like, and the meaning of To Kill a Mockingbird among it all.
The entire book is extremely detailed, well-researched, and readable. Some of the most interesting and important parts include: Nelle's friendship with Truman Capote; her upbringing and school life that ultimately influenced her novel; her relationships with Gregory Peck, her sister Alice and father A.C.; and the author's (sometimes successful) attempts to contact her throughout the years. I hung on
every word, even when the author fleshed out in great detail the family histories of others, Capote's In Cold Blood, and other anecdotes. He did such an excellent job of characterizing Nelle as intelligent, warm, and thoughtful, but fiercely protective of her privacy and her world.
Shields, importantly, sheds some insight as to why Nelle never wrote another book. Not only did she dislike the public attention and pressure of writing following the tremendous success of Mockingbird, but she had already given so much in her first novel. A love story, Mockingbird was for her father, her family, her town, her beliefs, the South. A novel that encompasses all of these meaningful things at once cannot be easily replicated, and I think it took Nelle years to come
to peace with this. As she said herself: "People who have made peace with themselves are the people I most admire in the world."
To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book of all time, and I read it every summer. This biography was the perfect companion to my summer reading, as it allowed me the chance to linger in Maycomb for a little while longer.
Market: Nonfiction (adult, but appropriate for many ages)
Adult Themes: Coming of age, literary success, Southern heritage