The first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird, I was much too young for its themes. I read it and connected to Scout as a young girl. But this book grabbed my attention and I kept reading. In high school, I reread it and dug into the injustice. As a new teacher, I reread it and connected to Miss Caroline, the teacher who was trying her hardest. I made Frank read it when we found out we were pregnant with Bea, telling him that Atticus is a model of understanding fathering.
I know there are flaws in the book and perhaps it shouldn’t be a standard in curriculums of formative literature. I know I’ve romanticized Scout’s feisty spirit and Atticus’s noble role in his community. The fact that such an iconic book on race is written by a white woman is problematic.
However, sometimes we need to see ourselves in order to join a conversation. As a ten-year-old, I just wasn’t ready to jump into deep conversations of racial injustice. I needed some hand-holding and connection to my own life, even if it was simply the fact that the protagonist was also a young white girl.
Because of To Kill a Mockingbird, I learned to grapple with the uncomfortable issues of race and justice. I learned to question the status quo in my own experience. Because of To Kill a Mockingbird, I’ve graduated to books on racism written by people of color who know what they are writing about.
Some books are important stepping stones to our awakening. Should everyone read To Kill a Mockingbird? No. It’s not for everyone. But I hope that my own girls read it and are transformed by it. I hope they continue to read it and grapple with the issues presented. And I hope they move on to other books that deepen their understanding of injustice and systemic racism.
I will be forever thankful for the lessons I learned from Harper Lee and for the journey her book set me on. This will always be one of my top favorite, life-changing books for that reason.
What book set you on a trajectory of discovery? Can you think of that pivotal read?
This post is Day 7 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.