Reviewed by: Genna Buhr, Public Services Manager, Interim Co-Director
Genre: Literary Fiction
Suggested Age: Adults
What is the book about?: In Harper Lee’s sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout – now 20 years older and more often called Jean Louise – has returned home from New York to visit Maycomb and her family. She struggles to understand changes she’s noticing of those closest to her, changes she’s witnessing in her hometown, and changes she’s feeling within herself.
I’ll preface my review with the a few notes. I read Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird nearly twenty years ago and decided not to reread it before Go Set a Watchman. I enjoyed the experience of reading Mockingbird immensely and felt the book was worthy of the praise it had received over the decades. However, I don’t think I am as emotionally invested in the story or the characters as much as many Mockingbird lovers are. I was aware of the controversies regarding the release of Watchman and its storyline. That being said, I tried to approach the book open-minded, but somewhat aware that it wasn’t going to be the same as Mockingbird. I decided to read it for the story and characters, but not necessarily from the viewpoint of social commentary.
Now, onto my review. I enjoyed Watchman. I don’t read a lot of fiction; I’ve always been more of a non-fiction reader. However, as I got into the book, I found myself having the same reading experience that I remembered having with Mockingbird, enjoying Scout’s internal monologue and Lee’s first-person narrative. I was excited to have my next opportunity to sit down and continue with the book, as I was anxious to find out how the story would progress. I was intrigued to learn each character’s opinion of a situation and how they would come to terms with the others’. I didn’t find myself categorizing the characters as “mensch” or “unmensch,” but was fascinated by how Lee portrayed them each as human – flawed as we are – and how she had them explain their individual reasoning.
I would agree with some critics that opine that the storytelling and use of language isn’t as strong as Mockingbird (although it probably isn’t fair, given the history of the manuscript, to expect it to be). However, I didn’t find that some of the minor clunkiness was detrimental to my enjoyment of the book. There were also several cultural and historical references with which I wasn’t familiar, so I would go so far to suggest that an Internet connection is a handy reading partner for this book. While I enjoyed this novel, it is one that has potential to be fairly divisive amongst readers. Read it for yourself, recognize your own situation, background, and biases going into it, and take the unexpected opportunity to experience Harper Lee for a second time.
About FDL Reads
Welcome to FDL Reads, weekly book reviews from Fondulac District Library. Librarians (and possibly some other guest reviewers) review all types of books, from children’s picture books, young adult favorites, to the latest adult thriller, and share their thoughts each week at fondulaclibrary.org. If the book is owned by Fondulac District Library (or another local library), you’ll see a direct link to the catalog entry and whether or not it is available. If it is checked out or at another local library, you will be able to place a hold as long as you have your library card and PIN numbers. As with any book review, these are our opinions…we disagree amongst ourselves about books frequently. We all have different likes and dislikes, which is what makes the world an interesting place. Please enjoy, and keep on reading!