The Obligatory Review of “Go Set A Watchman”

When I say that To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite books, I’m not exaggerating. It makes every Top 5 list, no matter how long it’s been since I’ve read it. I think I’ve officially read it six times now, or something close to that. I try to read it at least once a year, and this summer I made sure to read it because I knew Go Set a Watchman was coming out.

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the release of Harper Lee’s prequel. Some people say it’s against her will. Some people are upset because it introduces this idea of a new side to an old character. I did my best to avoid reading too many reviews, not wanting to enter into this book with any preconceived notions of what I’d think or feel.

In all honesty, I’m still a bit uncomfortable. I finished it only five minutes ago, but this lingering sense of discomfort lasted through nearly all of the book. Harper Lee’s style in Mockingbird is one that I know by heart. While Mockingbird stays pretty true to the same style, relies heavily on both conversation and action, Watchman feels strained. We bounce back and forth between Scout’s thoughts and a third-person point of view. One sentence refers to Scout as “she” or “her” and the next, we’re reading her thoughts, her reaction in a personal sense. This felt wrong, not only because there was no real distinguishing format to the points of view, but because Harper Lee was much better of a writer in Mockingbird.

Entering the mind of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch was almost like going back to my childhood. But I can also distance myself, look at the characters from the eyes of a child and see how that might be biased. I, like Scout, adore my father. Looking at the way she views Atticus, though, I can easily say that she has an unhealthy reliance on him for most things. Scout’s a little girl in Mockingbird, easily drawn one way or the other based on emotions and feelings she might not yet fully understand, quick to react just like children are.

I expected that to change somewhat in Go Set a Watchman, expected us to meet a more mature version of Jean Louise. Almost immediately, she’s shown not to have changed much at all. While she remains true to the person she was in the first book, it’s hard to say that’s a good thing. After all, she has a bachelors degree now. I can honestly sit here and say that I am a much different person than I was at the age of eight, ten, twelve, or even eighteen. Scout seems to have not really grown or changed at all, and it was disappointing. The most mature change of her life occurs in the last 50 or so pages of this novel, and we don’t even get to see how it impacts her.

Without giving any spoilers, I will warn you that there are some familiar faces missing from the book. We see most of them in flashbacks, but it’s very sad. People who have drastically shaped the world we learned about in Mockingbird get only a few mentions, if that, in Watchman. Somehow, one of the most monumental pieces of the first book is briefly touched upon in the second, and I was really sad. We don’t see what became of Tom Robinson’s family, we don’t learn how Scout reacted to having met Boo Radley. In a sense, the books were almost too different for my liking.

Even with flashbacks to her childhood, I felt like the Jean Louise in the book was not the same one we’d met in Mockingbird. At the same time, she wasn’t all that different. I guess, really, it was like taking a child and teaching them things they need to know to become a young adult without them actually maturing through it. Jean Louise wore dresses and kissed boys and smoked… But she was still very much a child, mentally. She reacted to things exactly as her former self would have, despite having the outer appearance of being an adult.

Overall, I think everyone should give this book a chance. I’m all about shaping your own opinion, and I know some people who loved this book. The first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird, I didn’t like it. Maybe, in a few years, I’ll pick up Go Set A Watchman and connect to it in a new way. For now, though, I’m going to do my best to keep it separate in my head. I refuse to let this be a part of the Harper Lee legacy my mind has created. Some books are just so incredible, they don’t need a sequel, or a prequel. It’s selfish of me to want that when clearly, the novel was pretty powerful all on its own.

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