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Fiction

Through the eyes of a innocent girl (Double reviews of To Kill a Mockingbird and A Crime in the Neighbourhood)

Do you remember how it feels when you are about to read a book that is heralded as one of the greatest classics of the century and felt an unusual sense of trepidations in picking up the book? Well I remembered. To Kill a mockingbird had sat so long on my shelf that I am not surprised to find generations of cockroaches’ eggs have hatched and died at the same spot next to the book. The book also sat for a year in my Reading Next side bar. Pathetic.

But why the fear?

At first, I thought perhaps there would be something gruesome about killing a mockingbird; but the main reason of all is that I picked this up 17 years ago and I couldn’t get past first chapter.

A new year with a new bravado I have finally finished the book, and to capture the milieu and emotion of the great classic a little longer I continue the next read with A Crime in the Neighbourhood by Suzanne Berne, cited by the Daily Telegraph as:

This ambitious account of a sudden coming of age reminded me strongly of To Kill a Mockingbird – and is every bit moving and satisfying.

And Suzanne Berne’s writing has been compared with Anne Tyler and Harper Lee. So we shall see.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This book’s blurb requires no introduction, but for my deteriorating memory I’ll throw in some clues to help me remember this later. The book is set in 1930s and is the coming of age story of Scout Finch (real name Jean Louise), a little girl living in Maycomb, Alabama. She has an older brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus.  Dill is their summer friend who came visit them every summer and they spend much of their time wondering about Boo Radley, who hasn’t stepped out of his house for decades. The children are all fascinated with him and thinking up ways to get Boo to come out of his house.

The book introduced many delightful characters (both pleasant and obnoxious) that paints you a picture of communal living in the American South; The strict housekeeper, Calpurnia, Miss Maudie their neighbour who loves gardening, the vigilant Aunt Alexandra etc. While I was lulled into believing that this is a book about a young girl’s innocent childhood, towards the middle it exudes a grim undertone as Atticus, tasked with defending a black man against charges for raping a white girl. Scout, Jem, and Dill disobey orders to stay home on the day of the trial, and has seen and watch the court proceedings. I was delighted there is going to be court drama in the book as little piece of suspense and then more shocks ensued and the book ended with me feeling a sense of gratification and redemption. ah…

I am glad that I read this now and unanimously agree with the others that Atticus will be considered as one of my all time favourite characters. Atticus do not flinch from standing up for what’s right, being courteous to everyone even when they were horrid to him, all those good old fashion values that fast becoming extinct in this contemporary world were alive in this book. And I love it. I love the fact that the book is not focus on the court cases but it is a story about Scout’s childhood. A terrible injustice told through the eyes of a young innocent child’s was deftly handled. The adventurous spirit and wide-eyed innocence of Scout is so infectious and I like Scout a lot. Like Scout I am the sort of girl who grew up playing boys’ games instead of playing dolls, the sort of girl who needs to be given a good telling-off before I could behave like a proper lady.

My favourite passages from the book (except the first one from Scout, the rest are from dear Atticus):

I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers…. I read everything that Atticus happened to be reading when i crawled into his lap every night. Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. – Scout (page 20)

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” –  page 99

“Easy doe it son,” Atticus would say. ‘She’s an old lady and she’s ill. You just hold your head high and be a gentleman. Whatever she says to you, it’s your job not to let her make you mad.’  – page 111

“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions,’ said Atticus, ‘but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.’ – page 116

Well said Atticus, the last passage, well said. That’s what I said so to myself all the time.

What I like most about the book: the moral values, the right for every man to be treated equally, the love between family and siblings, the lives of American South came alive within the pages. A great classic that deserves to be required reading in every classroom.

What I like least about the book: None about the book but the despicable Ewells family would qualify?

Paperback. Publisher: Mandarin paperback, Length: 309 pages; fictionSetting: Alabama in 1930′s. Source: Own book. Finished reading at: 15 Jan 2011.

A mockingbird

A Crime in the Neighbourhood by Suzanne Berne

A crime in the neighbourhood is also told through the eyes of young girl, named Marsha. In the long hot summer of 1972, three events shattered the serenity of 10-year-old Marsha’s life: her father ran away with her mother’s sister Ada; Boyd Allison, a young boy, was molested and murdered; and Watergate made the headlines.

Living in a world no longer safe or familiar, Marsha acquire a habit of noting everything down in her notebooks as evidence, in which she records the doings of the neighbours, especially of shy and suspicious Mr. Green next door. But as Marsha’s confusion and the murder hunt both accelerate, her ‘facts’ has catastrophically impact on her neighbourhood.

While Scout injected her humour and loveliness in her observation, Marsha is the opposite. 38 years on, children have grown up more quickly and their thoughts are darker, they are more capable to incite harms through their innocence and their parents and siblings no longer stand each other in the same house.

‘Well, you know children sometimes hear things that adults don’t’ Detective Small said.

Just like dogs, I told myself. – page 176.

A crime in the neighbourhood plot is far more sinister and a sense of doom or foreboding loom throughout the whole book. For most parts of the book, it contains Marsha’s brooding over the disappearance of her father and the loss that follows. The pain was especially intense for her because Marsha loves her father best.

There is no Atticus Finch in this one, and the father figure of Marsha is a disappointing one that has abandoned the family for another woman.

“I wasn’t prepared for how it would be when he died. I had been living without my father for nearly a quarter of a century and yet when Julie called to tell me that he was dead, suddenly there I was, ten years old all over again, and he had just left me, and the world was a wide place in the dark, and right then I understood as if for the very first time that nothing in my life would ever feel safe.” – page 246 last passage of the book.

The last 50 pages were phenomenal. The sudden turn of caught me by surprise made me turned the pages a little quicker, but be forewarned that you may not get all the answers you need to solve the crime in this book. The author’s clear, plain and intensely evocative prose resurfaced more and more at the end of the book, until I felt like I was reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing, except hers was better.

While To Kill a Mockingbird resonates in me the need to promote the sense of moral goodness and justice; A Crime in the Neighbourhood resonate long after I have put the book down because of the loss of Marsha’s broken family and the same regret of how prejudice would render one guilty as charged, before a fair trial.

What I like most about the book: The horror and the insecurity of the neighbourhood runs parallel with insecurity of Marsha’s childhood and both events were entwined seamlessly and wonderfully narrated. There is big surprise in store and tension is built evenly throughout.

What I like least about the book: The bickering between siblings, the animosity between mother and daughter, all the nastiness that goes on do left a bad taste in my mouth after awhile. This would otherwise be a very good reminiscence piece of work. There is not a single character that I like in this novel. Solving the crime is not exactly the main concern of this book, despite its title.

Paperback. Publisher: Penguin, Length: 248 pages; Setting: Maryland Suburbs. Source: Own book. Finished reading at: 17 Jan 2011.

My Verdict:

Hope to catch this movie one day

To Kill a Mockingbird is nothing like A Crime in the neighbourhood, other than it’s told through the eyes of a young girl and a crime is committed in the neighbourhood, the whole tone and style is completely different. Both tried to inject a piece of world current affairs that are happening to their respective eras and that is very nice.

To Kill a Mockingbird: 5/5

Winner of Pulitzer Fiction Prize 1961

A Crime in the Neighbourhood by Suzanne Berne: 4.5/5

Winner of the Orange Prize 1999

Reading both for TBR challenge and To Kill a Mockingbird for Animal Challenge.

Other views on To Kill a Mockingbird:

Did I miss your review? Let me know and I’ll add them here.

About the writers:

Nelle Harper Lee (born April 28, 1926) is an American Author and To Kill a Mockingbird is her only published book, it led to Lee being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom of the United States for her contribution to literature in 2007. Lee has also been the recipient of numerous honorary degrees, but has always declined to make a speech.

Other significant contributions of Lee include assisting her close friend, Truman Capote, in his research for the book In Cold Blood.

Nelle Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama, the youngest of four children of Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch Lee. Her mother’s name was Finch. Her father, a former newspaper editor and proprietor, was a lawyer who served in the Alabama State Legislature from 1926 to 1938. As a child, Lee was a tomboy and a precocious reader, and was best friends with her schoolmate and neighbor, the youngTruman Capote.

Suzanne Berne (born 1961 Washington, D.C.) is an American novelist known for her foreboding character studies involving unexpected domestic and psychological drama in bucolic suburban settings. She attended Georgetown Day School. She was educated at Wesleyan University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She presently lives with her family near Boston and has taught at both Harvard University and Wellesley College. She is associate English professor at Boston College.

Her first novel, A Crime in the Neighborhood, was published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill in 1997. It was published in Great Britain in 1999 and won the coveted Orange Prize for fiction, from a short list that included Toni Morrison and Barbara Kingsolver that year. The judges called it “a stunning novel of rare quality.” Reviewer David Baddiel described the book as “a beautifully lyrical – and deeply disturbing – rites of passage novel, written, with the hindsight of melancholy adulthood, from the point of view of a young girl growing up at that stage in the early ‘70s when the idyll of American family life started to come apart.”

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books.

Discussion

29 thoughts on “Through the eyes of a innocent girl (Double reviews of To Kill a Mockingbird and A Crime in the Neighbourhood)

  1. I waited a very long time to read To Kill a Mockingbird also-sometimes I hate to read books that are so hugely popular as I fear they will not live up to their hype-I really enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird-I it when the young girl in the family says reading is like breathing to her-something she just does-when I heard this I recall how I cringe when some body says “Oh do you like reading?”-I enjoyed your post a lot-I am not familiar with the other work-I posted on Mockingbird in 2010

    Posted by Mel u | January 22, 2011, 10:10 am
    • Mel U, me too Mel. I fear the book wouldn’t live up to my expectations. I feel the same about Norwegian Wood now and I’m reading it very slowly and try not to miss the beauty of it. :) and that bit about other people saying to me “Oh you read a lot!” is the same as asking “Oh you breathe a lot?” LOL :D

      I have insert your link on the post now and thank you for your kind words Mel.

      Posted by JoV | January 22, 2011, 11:17 am
  2. Good review. To kill a mockingbird is a favourite. I haven’t heard about the 2nd book, but sounds interesting. Here is my review.
    http://arightowrite.blogspot.com/2010/07/to-kill-mockingbird-and-harry-potter.html

    Posted by sandhya | January 22, 2011, 10:22 am
  3. I read Mockingbird I think in college – more than a decade now – and I seem to have completely forgotten about it. Your review brought it back to life though :-). I hadn’t heard of the other book – I have added this now to my list. And I LOVED that quote of Atticus you have posted – ah, now I should go back and read this properly. Awesome review as always JoV!

    Posted by Soul Muser | January 22, 2011, 1:36 pm
    • Soul, Thanks for your kind words. I didn’t expect Mockingbird to be so readable. There is a lot of wisdom in it, and Atticus is just the kind of role model that I have been searching for in a story. Conscience, conscience. We must have them, no matter what other people say or pressure us to do, the most important thing is that our conscience is clear. ;) I simply love that quote.

      Posted by JoV | January 22, 2011, 9:38 pm
  4. The movie is just as wonderful as the book. In fact I was so impressed that the movie was not dull and uninteresting as I tend to find many of the older ones.

    Awesome reviews on both books!

    Posted by Sheila (Book Journey) | January 22, 2011, 2:57 pm
    • Thanks Sheila. I have my worries about watching black and white movies. I know a lot of people love them, but only a handful of them I like and I don’t get used to the dramatisation and passions of characters of that era. I like to watch the movie and Gregory Peck though.

      Posted by JoV | January 22, 2011, 9:41 pm
  5. I tried reading To Kill A Mockingbird twice before (years ago) and never finished. But your review made me want to give it another try (even all the hype from last year didn’t made me lol :)

    Posted by christa @ mental foodie | January 22, 2011, 7:46 pm
    • Ouch Christa, that could have been me. Give it a go, in your quiet time, when your mind is not thinking about the next thing to do! Thanks for the compliments! I understand what you are saying. Last summer it was the Mockingbird’s 50th anniversary and I wanted to read it so much, but have since put it off until now…. I would be interested to hear what you think about it! :)

      Posted by JoV | January 22, 2011, 9:43 pm
  6. Oh, now I want to see the film again. I love Gregory Peck in everything, and particularly in To Kill a Mockingbird. He absolutely nails Atticus Finch.

    Posted by Jenny | January 22, 2011, 7:51 pm
  7. Thanks for reviewing To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s one of those classics that is still on my to-read list! Hahaha, I guess when in highschool one isn’t very tempted to read complex books? I know I wasn’t!
    By the way, I really like the way you do your reviews, adding information about the author.

    Posted by Chinoiseries | January 22, 2011, 10:18 pm
  8. Hi Chinoiseires, Yes. I like to read about the man and woman behind the great stories. Understand why they write the book, if it’s autobiographical, what motivates them to write it, how they look like etc. etc.. and if they are good looking, all the better. ha ha ha :)

    You just got to pick up To Kill a Mockingbird!

    Posted by JoV | January 22, 2011, 10:55 pm
  9. Wonderful review, Jo! I read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ last year and loved it too – it is one of my favourite books now. Glad to know that you enjoyed it too. I love the picture of the mockingbird that you have posted :)

    I liked very much your observation – “Like Scout I am the sort of girl who grew up playing boys’ games instead of playing dolls”. It reminded me of my sister, who used to play mostly with boys, when she was younger. When she tried to compete in the school 100m race, when she was in 10th grade, her girl-friends were unsure, because they had never seen my sister in any sort of athletics competition. There were other favourites who were expected to win, but my sister beat them hands-down! It was a surprise to me and my parents too.

    Have you seen the movie version of ‘To Kill the Mockingbird’? It is also wonderful, though it focusses more on the legal drama.

    ‘A Crime in the Neigbhourhood’ looks like an interesting story too. Suzanne Berne looks like a talented author.

    Posted by Vishy | January 23, 2011, 7:33 am
    • Vishy, thank you for your kind words and spending so long writing comments here Vishy. thank you thank you thank you. :)

      I forgot that you read it and I will include your link here now. Isn’t it great to grew up like Tomboy, like Harper Lee herself??!! I think it gives us girls a courage and self belief to be what we want to be.. LOL :D I like stories about your sister coming out of the blue to shock everyone, I thought it is amazing to discover closet talent and the day when it comes for everyone to acknowledge it. :) I would love to watch the movie version of the book!

      Yeah, interesting I never knew about Berne. She writes beautifully and deserve to win the orange prize.

      Posted by JoV | January 23, 2011, 11:09 am
  10. So happy you love To Kill a Mockingbird, Jo! It’s one of my all-time favorites, but then I guess everyone loves it :)
    I’m certainly intrigued by the second book now, I can live with unlikable charaters if I know beforehand, and mysteries always intrigue me, I’m such a fan :D
    So, are you out of your slump? I really hope so! :)

    Posted by Bina | January 23, 2011, 1:30 pm
    • Aww.. thanks Bina. I was afraid I might hate it. Glad that I love it. :) The 2nd book is quite a good read. Really. Berne writes beautifully I’m sure you will love it. :)
      I think I am out of my slump. I could have read so much more, but before something else take over my life in Feb, I think I got to finish a few more books in order to slack for the next few months on reading. ;)

      Posted by JoV | January 23, 2011, 9:22 pm
  11. I am so glad you liked ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Your review brought back some lovely memories and it makes me want to read the book again!

    Posted by anaamica | January 24, 2011, 8:53 am
  12. To Kill a Mockingbird is probably one of my favourite books that I studied at school, we also watched the film and a stage production of it, as well as putting on our own school production of it…I was Scout :-)
    Anyway soo glad you enjoyed it!

    Posted by jessicabookworm | January 24, 2011, 11:54 am
  13. How come there are so many cockroaches?!

    I have been wanting to read “Mockingbird” for quite some time, but have not got round to. I am not sure if I have this at home. Regardless, perhaps I shall have a go with it some time in the future? Heh!

    Posted by Wilfrid | January 25, 2011, 12:09 am
  14. I’m so glad that I took advantage of a 50th anniversary offer to read To Kill a Mockingbird finally, but I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much had I read it in high school. The court room scenes were the most captivating part of the book. Thanks for linking to my review!

    Posted by Anna (Diary of an Eccentric) | February 3, 2011, 2:48 pm

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


JoV's favorite books »
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old-books

Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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