Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

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After tutoring high school freshmen in California for ten years, I read “To Kill a Mockingbird” more than a half a dozen times.  It is an excellent novel and, in fact, was voted “Best Novel of the Century” in a poll by Library Journal. The book also resulted in the author, Harper Lee, being awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” was the first book that Harper Lee published, but it was not the first book she wrote.  Before writing “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee wrote “Go Set a Watchman: A Novel.”

When Harper Lee submitted her first novel for publication, the editor told her that it didn’t have enough of a back story and that she needed to write a prequel to it.  That prequel became “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Plot Summary of the Harper Lee Books:

In the book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the main character, Jean Louise (nicknamed Scout) is a little girl living in Maycomb, Alabama … a fictional town based on the town of Monroeville, where Harper Lee grew up.   Other characters that have a prominent role in the book are Dill (based on Truman Capote, who lived next door to Harper Lee), Jem (her brother), Atticus Finch (based on her real-life father), and assorted neighbors, relatives and teachers. This novel is set in the 1930’s, during the Great Depression.

The children in “To Kill a Mockingbird” have a number of exciting adventures, including spying on the mysterious Boo Radley who lives down the street.  They also witness Aticus as he acts as the defense attorney for a black man who is accused of raping a white woman.

The book, “Go Set a Watchman,” takes place in the 1950’s, as 26 year-old Jean Louise (Scout) travels from New York City, where she has been living, to her home in Maycomb where she wants to spend time with her aging father, Atticus.  However, times have changed in Maycomb and Jean Louise is shocked by racial discord, civil rights issues, political turmoil and the reality of a father whose health is rapidly declining.  She also encounters a former boyfriend who wants to marry her and she is forced to make some decisions about their relationship.

Faced with all these challenges, Jean Louise must readjust her entire belief system and confront illusions about her idyllic past.  The transition is painful.  However, this book is not a tragedy.  It is also full of humor, warmth, wisdom and passion.

If you are interested in purchasing either of these books from Amazon, or would like to read an excerpt from them, here are the direct links to their Amazon home pages:

“To Kill a Mockingbird”

“Go Set a Watchman”

Harper Lee Collection: “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Go Set a Watchman”

If you would like to purchase the Kindle versions, get a summary of “To Kill a Mockingbird” or watch the “To Kill a Mockingbird” movie before you read “Go Set a Watchman,” you can order them here:



Quotes by my book club and husband about “Go Set a Watchman”

Husband: “Harper Lee’s writing reminds me of Mark Twain.  I loved her sense of humor and the way she described the town of Maycomb and the people who lived there.”

Book club:

  • “It was shocking how she reacted to seeing her father and boyfriend at a town council meeting.  She judged them so quickly, just because they were at the meeting, even though they didn’t say anything.”
  • “Her Uncle Jack was a little forceful, but he helped her see her father as more than a one-dimensional, saintly person.”
  • “Atticus realized, long before Scout, that it is easier to change attitudes when working from the inside, than it is by attacking from the outside.”

Bottom Line on my Review of “Go Set a Watchman”:

“Go Set a Watchman” was a moving story.  However, it will make little sense to you if you have not read “To Kill a Mockingbird,” first.  As the original editor noted, “Go Set a Watchman” needed a back story … and “To Kill a Mockingbird” fulfills that role perfectly.   If you are not familiar with the latter, I highly recommend that readers purchase both books.

#GoSetAWatchman #ToKillaMockingbird #HarperLee

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