So this is one of those required reading books that’s just straight-up good enough that somehow, some sense of its general brilliance usually manages to get through the minds of the millions of eighth-graders whose reading experience is cramped and ruined by the constant intrusion of the chapter-by-chapter study guide. It’s hard to read when you’re periodically turning away from the page to fill out those stupid packets; when you’re dutifully writing “Because he writes his name with his left hand” right below “How does Atticus insinuate that Mr. Ewell might have beaten up his own daughter?” it’s difficult to grasp that this is an incredible, A Few Good Men-volume courtroom moment and not just a question on a worksheet.
(I will say though, after visiting my dearest friend in New York City who had to teach this book in the Bronx under near-impossible circumstances, I’m grateful that I and most all the rest of us attended schools where there was enough paper to make these perfunctory packets, and our teachers did not have to struggle through each hour to produce character posters that say nothing other than “Mayella: she dirty.” Tory, how’s it going, love you girl.)
There’s Atticus Finch (the book was originally going to be called Atticus, which makes me want to watch Spartacus) as a pillar of sheer decency from which all saintly-lawyer types have degenerated (Sandy Cohen?). Scout Finch, the totally badass, precocious six-year-old whose life is saved because she’s dressed up like a big chunk of ham (I feel like every tomboy girl character in a kiddy sports movie is Scout reincarnate: Becky in Little Giants, Julie in D2). Boo Radley, who is the man in Home Alone. Tom Robinson the Saintly Negro, workable as a real character because so many other people in this tiny lil’ Alabama town are Saintly as well, including Calpurnia, the original code-switcher. I’m flipping through my old copy right now and I might reread it instead of doing lesson 7 on my Kyrgyz. Also, I made a flipbook of a stick figure kicking a soccer ball out of the bottom right-hand corner of each page. I’d like to think that was a Scout thing of me to do!