All right, listen: we’re always going to be tempted to compare an author’s works against each other–for good or for bad. Look what happened when Potterheads read some of J.K. Rowling’s (or Robert Galbraith’s if you prefer) works post-Potter. People weren’t pleased, mostly because they held (secret) expectations for it to be like Harry Potter. I realize that there are some unsavory feelings toward Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, but we have to remember that this is a novel on its own merits and shouldn’t be directly compared to or conflated with her seminal classic To Kill a Mockingbird. You’ll likely have strong opinions. That’s fine, I do, too. But we’ll agree to maintain a respectable dialogue and not debase ourselves to blindly calling out emotional arguments. Okay? Okay.
Jean Louise, lesser called Scout at age 26, Finch travels back to her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama from New York City for her annual vacation to visit her father. There are consistencies to life and behaviors in Maycomb that Jean Louise has become accustomed to and even looks forward to during her trips home. This trip proves to be no different, that is until she finds some questionable literature of Atticus’s and learns of the Council meetings that her father and close, romantic friend Henry attend as members of the board. To learn of the actions that her loved ones are taking against the advancement of civil rights drastically up-heaves Jean Louise’s life and her long-held understanding of her father. Coming to terms with this new knowledge and reflecting on her past help Jean Louise figure out who she is and where she’ll go from here.
A narrative weaving through time and memories provides a more complete picture of Jean Louise’s life after that which many of us know from her experience in To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman plays off of the characters and personalities first presented in that narrative but offers a new, yet somewhat familiar story for readers. While many of us will recall the racial tension present in TKAM, this new novel has an elevated racial tension due to the governmental involvement interjected via the Supreme Court. The struggles depicted, unfortunately, resonate with ease and remind me a bit of the mini-series Show Me a Hero on HBO. Seeing Scout transform into a new Jean Louise demonstrates how complex and seemingly fickle people actually are while also illuminating how easy it is to shatter how you view someone. Without divulging too much, which you may already know since this book has been out for a while and gotten a bit of press attention, you may be outraged by some of the content, but you may also find that you have understanding, be it with the situation presented or within yourself.
Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.