This summer has been cray cray. After a hectic week as a counselor in an Uh.Maze.Ing Christian summer camp, I came home, unpacked, and promptly caught a cold. As horrible as this sounds, I am more than happy to be banished to my bedroom in complete exhaustion for a few days. Why you ask? Because almost a month ago my preordered copy of Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee’s highly anticipated sequel (pre-quel?) for To Kill A Mockingbird, came in the mail. Unfortunately, I have been far too busy to even pick it up and smell the crisp new pages or admire the gorgeous cover design.
I pre-ordered it planning to read it the day it came out, but I ended up being in an amazing national college training that week. When I returned home two weeks ago, I saw it sitting contentedly on my nightstand. I squealed.
“Uh, you might not want to read that.”
My dad warned me that the reviews that had been coming out were not at all positive.
“It ruins To Kill A Mockingbird.”
And thus I let the book sit in my dresser drawer for two weeks while I contemplated what to do. To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite books of all time. I DO NOT reread books, like ever. But I’ve read To Kill A Mockingbird three times. It is one of the books that defines who I am as a reader and as a person. I could not bear to have it ruined.
On the other hand, I was too curious to let the sequel go. I wanted to learn more about this mysterious Harper Lee who wrote the masterpiece of American literature and then disappeared for over half a century. And goodness sakes, I never buy books, particularly new books. There is no way I could waste over twenty dollars on a book that I would never read.
So when sickness settled upon me and I fell into the first bored moments of the summer, I decided to cautiously open the cover and give Go Set A Watchman a chance. I had the time to devour the entire novel whole. And lemme tell you, it was quite an emotional journey.
It started out slow. Real slow. The writing was nowhere near as polished as To Kill A Mockingbird. It read more like a first draft than a finished work. It was fun to be introduced to some of my dearly beloved characters, but eventually I started to get bored with the absolute lack of plot or theme.
Without revealing any spoilers, I’ll just say that halfway into the novel Harper Lee shocked me with a revelation I could never have anticipated. I had never been so angry at an author in all my born days. HOW COULD SHE BE SO CRUEL? HOW COULD SHE RUIN MY LIFE LIKE THAT?
Through anger and tears, I tore through the remaining half of the novel. As I read, I realized that Lee’s scheme was a tad bit brilliant… I was experiencing the exact emotions that the main character was feeling: confusion, betrayal, cynicism, disbelief at everything I had ever held dear.
In a way, yes, this would ruin To Kill A Mockingbird for me forever. I can no longer go back and read TKAM with the same innocent hope that I used to read it with. However, Harper Lee didn’t ruin one of the most important novels of the 20th century for no reason. She had a moral, a very clear lesson to be learned.
As a stand alone novel, Go Set A Watchman would be nothing. There is a lack of plot and character development. The dialog is not very believable and the prose are unpolished. However, if you, like me, grew up reading and being defined by To Kill A Mockingbird, then Go Set A Watchman will punch you and beat you and teach you a lesson you might never have learned any other way.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, Harper Lee uses the emotional attachment people have for her first novel to reveal a new truth, a deeper harder to bear truth. Yes, it will change how you look at TKAM forever. So read and enjoy TKAM alone first. Maybe read it three times. Digest it. Enjoy it. Suck every bit of truth out of it. But if, like me, you have already learned what you need to learn from TKAM, then it is not a loss to let it be ruined for the sake of understanding the more mature, more complicated, moral lesson of Go Set A Watchman.
In the end, I’m glad I read it. Go Set A Watchman would NOT be a good stand alone novel. It would NOT be good to read right after enjoying To Kill A Mockingbird. It is not the masterpiece of literature that To Kill A Mockingbird was and still is. But, it holds a lesson just as clear and just as important as To Kill A Mockingbird. When you are ready to accept the world in its cruel unfairness and grow up a right next to Jean Louise Finch, I would say, give it a read.