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