On Wednesday, somewhere between applying face lotion and making my daily scrambled egg, the BBC informed me that Harper Lee has a second book. And not just any second book. A long lost sequel to the beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird. A book about Scout as an adult.
I’m finding it hard to explain (to Europeans in particular) the mixture of unbridled excitement and abject terror that I’ve felt ever since learning this news. I grew up surrounded by this book. My mother—herself from a small town in the deep South—called me Angel May (and even sometimes Scout) throughout my childhood, and if I ever get a tattoo, it will be a mockingbird. It was required reading, of course. But for me, it was so much more than that.
The story gave life and depth to my own past, the past of my family, in a way that no other book—fiction or non-fiction—ever has. My grandmother was born in 1922 in a small town in rural Mississippi. And by small, I mean one general store small. Red dirt, pine trees, and front porches small. Her mother had the first freezer in town, but got rid of it because she was annoyed by all the neighbors bringing things over to try it out. Her father set up the first power plant in town, and the kid that had to flip the switch at 10 p.m. every day just barely had enough time to run across the railroad tracks before the street lights went out. It’s the kind of town that Scout and Atticus Finch live in. Grandmommy and Jem Finch are even the same age.
As Atticus himself explains to Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” To Kill a Mockingbird let me do just that for my own loved ones. This is not the second Harry Potter. This is a sequel to a seminal literary piece of my identity.
Am I emotionally prepared for Scout to grow up? What if I don’t like adult Scout? What if she or Atticus has become jaded or complacent? What if it’s just not good? It was written before To Kill a Mockingbird and without the benefit of that novel’s many editors and revisions. It genuinely might not be good.
Plus, where the heck has it been all these years? This is the author who famously proclaimed “I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.” Lee is 88-years-old, blind, and recently suffered a stroke. My own grandmother was all those things not long ago. And she was certainly in no shape to be making a book deal. I can’t help but worry that the deeply private Lee is being taken advantage of following the death of her hawkishly protective younger sister, Alice, just two months ago.
There is a small part of me that has a secret hope for this book. Could it be a second chapter to go with my own family’s story? After all, my mother is from the generation that came of age in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement; hers was the first integrated graduating class from her high school. Since Go Set a Watchman was written before To Kill a Mockingbird and set in the 1950s, could it help reveal the world of her childhood in the Deep South? This seems like too much pressure to add to my already burning questions and concerns.
I have a few months to grapple with these issues before the book is published, but the fear is real. I love this book—and the movie it inspired. But I am not sure I’m ready for it to have another chapter.