To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This novel, published in 1960 by Harper Lee, deserves every ounce of fame it has thus far received. Although the subjects that are addressed by the novel are shrouded by controversy, it addressed issues that needed to be addressed, such as racism and the crimes that can be committed under its name.

The novel is told from the perspective of six-year-old Caucasian Jean Louise “Scout” Finch. Her father, Atticus Finch, is the most reliable lawyer in her town, Maycomb. He takes on a case defending a black man who is wrongfully accused of raping a white woman, and this sends the entire population of their town into a frenzy. Scout and her brother, Jem, experience the metaphorical splitting of the town as everyone takes a side. They are attacked and harassed for the actions of their father.

The plot deepens and thickens, unfolding with an uncanny message: racism is a real issue, and it remains as such, even though To Kill A Mockingbird was first published in 1960. In fact, Scout and Jem are attacked at night and nearly killed in retaliation of their father’s case. The town is violently over-involved in Atticus Finch’s case, and most of its citizens actually attend the trial for sport and entertainment. People are quick to take sides and are adamant and passionate about whichever one they end up on.

To Kill A Mockingbird is also semi-autobiographical- Scout’s childhood is based loosely off of Harper Lee’s. However, Lee quickly became reclusive due to her book’s fame and all the attention it received. The novel was groundbreaking, but Harper Lee hardly did any interviews, book signings, or any public event of the sort. In fact, Harper Lee was barely involved in the making of the movie adaption of the novel, which became a box-office hit (it made over three times its budget!).

Overall, To Kill A Mockingbird is a magnificent literary tapestry, with intricately woven characters and artfully spun plots and subplots. It addresses issues that were relevant in its time and, some may argue, even more, relevant today. It is a novel that has affected people’s lives, in ways that are clear but also subconscious, and has educated many on the subject of racism amid the early 1930s.

-Arushi S.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

Black Like Me, a memoir written by John Howard Griffin, tells the true story of Griffin’s time spent in the segregated south in the 1950s as a black man. Griffin, however, was not biologically black. In fact, he was a white journalist with a focus on racial equality- a white man who wanted to experience the truth of black life in a land supposedly “separate but equal”, a sugar-coated line which people knew even then to be a lie. In order to truly understand the plight of African Americans in the southern states, Griffin chemically dyed his skin black using pills normally reserved for treating vitiligo. With black skin and a deep-rooted curiosity, Griffin ventured into the south. What he found horrified him, and became the subject of his memoir.

In Black Like Me, Griffin addresses the dehumanizing conditions which were caused by segregation in the American south. Most people are aware of the immediate impacts of segregation. Black people and white people were physically separated from each other, barred from drinking from the same water fountains, using the same bathrooms, eating at the same restaurants, or even using the same seats on the bus. It served as a barrier, keeping black men and women from attaining education, or those with education from obtaining jobs which could provide livable wages. These are things taught in school, considered to be common knowledge. What fewer people are aware of, however, is what Griffin portrays to be the true result of segregation and racism: the very denial of the right to humanity. When no person affords you even the slightest common courtesy when people deem it unnecessary to look at you on the street, when you need to work hard each and every day to prove to the white man that you mean him no harm- what does that do to a human’s spirit? According to Griffin, the true horror of segregation is the degradation of humanity which naturally ensues from it. The result is a book that is hard to read without taking on the pain of the oppressed- a reaction which is not only desired by Griffin but which makes this book a truly unforgettable, essential read.

There is no specific demographic which I would recommend this book to. The truth is, everyone should read it. It is one of those once in a lifetime books which makes you think just as much as it immerses you in its story. Further, if you enjoy this book and would like to read another like it, I would highly recommend Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane (I wrote a review about this book, too).

-Mirabella S.

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin

Image result for Going to Meet the Man

This is yet another deep analysis written by James Baldwin on the issue of racism. But instead of writing from the perspective or setting a black person as its main character, this time the story revolves around a white deputy sheriff.

I was very much touched indeed about the description of the lynching of that black man in a small town where Jesse, the white deputy sheriff lived when he was young. It very much astonished and enraged me to read that Jesse’s father and mother saw the lynching of a human as a fun event instead of the violation of humanity. What saddens me more is the fact that Jesse as a young boy has to witness this brutality despite of his initial reluctance. However later on I realized that deep white superiority as a notion was planted in him which prompted Jesse in his adulthood to abuse African American citizens as well without hesitation or concern. He couldn’t endure black people from challenging white people’s authority, they were the masters, blacks can only be subjects.

Going in a deeper level I view this novel as basically a protest for racism by lending the Jim Crow mentality as an example to demonstrate the fear rooted in white people that black people someday might threaten their positions in the society as the force of dominion. Therefore this burning, castrating, hanging of a black man to death merely was shown as an illustration and a warning to other minorities of what they will suffer if they defy the power of the white people.

-Coreen C. 

Going To Meet The Man by James Balwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Another Country by James Baldwin

Image result for Another Country (novel)

This novel explores all aspects of maturity, including homosexuality, marriage, death and friendship. Of course at first this book sounded somewhat uncomfortable to me and I really didn’t want to read it. But because over the course of the period I have became the biggest of the James Baldwin I eventually decided to read it at last.

Initially, Rufus Scott is definitely a character that me, or almost everyone can relate with. At one point during our lives, we wonder what really is the point of life or why should we exist on this earth? I get tired of constantly changing faces and hiding my real self as if happiness was only mask on my face, I only peel it off when I go into my room and throw it in the trashcan. Only with Rufus Scott, he goes to the extreme and directly suicides. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s got a family there to support him, or at least half of the family.

Moving on the marriage between Cass and Richard pretty much presents a typical style of American life. One person has an affair, and the marriage breaks. Both people are not excellent parents but they still love their kids in my opinion. This also reflects how parents in real life tend to neglect the real needs of their kids due to their own stress or jobs.

-Coreen C.

Another Country by James Baldwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

 

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

Image result for if beale street could talk book

This book would probably be my favorite book written so far by James Baldwin. It is a novel that deals a lot with racism and injustice. Personally, in some point of our life we all feel like we’ve been treated unfairly for no reason and I can relate a lot to this perspective. Whether it’s because of my nationality, skin color, gender, and or even physical appearance in general. Fonny doesn’t deserve to be put into jail because he was falsely accused of rape, but in a society where white people always prevails at that time, a black man couldn’t voice his opinion out freely.

Now Tish on the other hand really touches me a lot, I was deeply moved by her strong sense of love and determination. She didn’t leave Fonny because he was put into jail and even when she was pregnant with his child, she didn’t choose to do abortion. Speaking of the truth, I can’t see any glorious future between a black criminal and a teen mom. But Tish doesn’t seem to agree with me, her family doesn’t have a lot of money and yet they were willing to hire all kinds of lawyers just to accomplish an almost impossible mission-battling against the entire world.

I definitely would recommend this book to people that are having depression or feel like they don’t belong to this harsh world. No worries, this novella will make you know that there are people like you, you are not alone.

-Coreen C. 

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin

Image result for Go Tell It on the Mountain (novel)

This is another semi-autographical novel which makes it itself another classic and the first major work Baldwin has written. For one thing, I feel like a lot of children should be able to sympathize with John Grimes: we all wish and hanker to be our parents’ favorite child. We take care of our younger siblings because we want our parents to feel proud of us. But then a lot of times life treats us as unequally as how it treats John Grimes, his father abuses him because he wasn’t of his blood, but merely the child between his mother Elizabeth and another man he doesn’t know.

And then there is Gabriel’s sister Florence. In my opinion, she really hates her little brother again because of how unfairly their mother treated her. This religious woman, although strict toward her son, made Florence do everything and even denied her of her education. Sexism forced Florence to leave home and doubt religion altogether with the existence and faith in God because such a sinful man like Gabriel could become a preacher.

My two favorite characters: John and Florence both serve as the centers of the theme of injustice. They didn’t do anything wrong or egregious for their parents to hate them, but one because of her gender, the other of his blood denied them of any attention and love they could possibly get which really saddens me a lot according to the descriptions they were given in the book. Since this is semi-autobiographical I am surmising here that the author James Baldwin probably was not the favorite child either if not the least favorite child liked by his parents with eight siblings.

-Coreen C. 

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Image result for to kill a mockingbird book cover

Published in 1960 and never forgotten since, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a dramatic coming-of-age tale about a small Southern town poisoned by prejudice during the 1930s, only about half a century after the end of the Civil War.

Told through the eyes of eight-year-old Scout Finch, this novel appears to merely be the story of a small-town girl, but if one observes carefully and makes connections, one will discover the twisting and turning threads of racial segregation lying just underneath the surface. Atticus Finch, Scout’s father and a man who believes that justice is blind, faces the most dangerous trial of his life when he attempts to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, from a rape charge.

In the background of all this, however, is a quaint depiction of Maycomb, a tiny village at the heart of Maycomb County. The reader watches Scout Finch grow from a young tomboy to a slightly older tomboy, as she loses her innocence in the face of the hate brought on by racial prejudice.

All in all, To Kill a Mockingbird is the kind of book that will stay with the reader long after they have finished it. Combining delightfully accurate prose with an undercurrent mocking the idea of segregation, this novel is an extraordinary one, pulling any and all readers into its pages and holding them there from the very first page to the very last word.

-Mahak M.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive