The following reviews are from The Horn Book Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online. For information about subscribing to the Guide and the Guide Online, please visit www.hbook.com/subscriber-info.
Ellsworth, Loretta In Search of Mockingbird
183 pp. Holt 2007. ISBN 978-0-8050-7236-5
YA Motivated by her late mother’s diary, aspiring writer Erin spontaneously buys a bus ticket from Minnesota to Alabama, hoping to find her mom’s literary inspiration, Harper Lee. The simple, well-told story focuses on the familiar themes of self-discovery and catharsis as Erin develops unlikely friendships during her two-day pilgrimage.
Erskine, Kathryn Mockingbird
235 pp. Philomel 2010. ISBN 978-0-399-25264-8
Gr. 4–6 Caitlin’s older brother Devon is killed in a school shooting, and she and her father are left to “Deal With It.” But Caitlin has Asperger’s syndrome and has to “Deal With” emotions, which are not one of her strengths. A tidy resolution weakens what is otherwise a strong and complex character study.
Giddens-White, Bryon The Story Behind Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
56 pp. Heinemann 2006. ISBN 978-1-4034-8208-2
YA History in Literature series. This series effectively places literary classics in context without simply regurgitating plot and theme. Lee’s biographical details are combined with historical and cultural background, some of which is vague or confusingly anachronistic (e.g., a profile of Barack Obama). The book is busily illustrated with numerous maps and archival pictures.
Leal, Ann Haywood Also Known as Harper
246 pp. Holt 2009. ISBN 978-0-8050-8881-6
Gr. 4–6 Fifth-grader Harper struggles to hold onto her identity as a poet and help care for her younger brother as the realities of homelessness press in on her. The resiliency of Leal’s characters and the small kindnesses of strangers who also struggle with poverty showcase the triumph of love and compassion in this gentle and nuanced first-person narrative.
Madden, Kerry Up Close: Harper Lee
224 pp. Viking 2009. ISBN 978-0-670-01095-0
YA In this straightforward biography, Madden covers Lee’s childhood in Monroeville, Alabama, her college years, her persistent rewriting of To Kill a Mockingbird, and her friendship with Truman Capote; there’s also a slightly gossipy chapter on the filming of Mockingbird. Madden’s done her homework, providing clear documentation from an impressive group of secondary sources, including many from the past two years.
Mancini, Candice Racism in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
209 pp. Greenhaven 2008. LE ISBN 978-0-7377-3900-8
YA Social Issues in Literature series. This volume presents brief, thoughtful essay reprints (primarily written by literary critics and academics) arranged into three sections that explore Lee’s life, identify relevant social issues, and discuss current cultural applications. Although the pieces are sometimes awkwardly truncated, they usually present ideas that go well beyond superficial critique, inviting readers to consider fiction as a vehicle for analyzing American identity.
Marino, Jan Searching for Atticus
182 pp. Simon 1997. ISBN 0-689-80066-5
YA After Tessa’s father returns from the Vietnam War haunted and withdrawn, it takes her dangerous encounter with a deceptive boyfriend to jolt him back to the present. The book’s theme, that people can’t always be the way you want them to be (Tessa’s father will never become the Atticus Finch figure she has always wished for), never quite hits home due to some abbreviated character development.
Shields, Charles J. I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee
246 pp. Holt 2008. ISBN 978-0-8050-8334-7
YA This book, abridged from Shields’s 2006 adult release Mockingbird, relies on extensive secondary source material and a few interviews with Lee’s acquaintances. Shields’s journalistic style creates a readable ode to a headstrong, determined, unconventional woman who writes, rewrites, edits, becomes frustrated, and finally finishes an enduring novel. Extensive documentation is appended.
Whitney, Daisy The Mockingbirds
339 pp. Little, Brown 2010. ISBN 978-0-316-09053-7
YA Eager for reparation after being raped, high schooler Alex enlists the Mockingbirds, “a justice system for the students, by the students.” Aided by friends, a devoted music teacher, and a new love interest, Alex slowly heals. Whitney’s engaging boarding school drama occasionally devolves into melodrama through sermonic dialogue and some unconvincing characterizations. Nonetheless, Alex’s healing process is satisfying and empowering.
From the May/June 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.