When your book is called THE MOCKINGBIRDS, it’s not really a secret that there’s going to be some kind of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD connection in the story. And, yes, my novel definitely takes its inspiration from Harper Lee’s classic - the one book that nearly every teenager in America has read. It also happens to be the canonical story of justice and doing the right thing, and that’s why the characters in my novel who form a secret society dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow students, take their name from the book on every high school’s required reading list.
When I first read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in high school I remember falling in love with the trial scene. Atticus was so masterful in the courtroom, but also so GOOD. He had justice and goodness and righteousness in his crosshairs and every time he asked a question you wanted to pump your fist because he was the good guy. And he was taking down the bad guy.
Or so it seemed.
Because then came the sucker punch. Tom Robinson, the guy Atticus was defending, was found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit and then was shot and killed when he tried to escape from prison.
So in some ways, the centerpiece of Harper Lee’s novel is actually a huge miscarriage of justice.
Is TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD then truly a story of justice?
Because I don’t believe the story should be viewed in simple terms — yes, no, guilty, innocent.
I didn’t believe that in high school and I definitely don’t believe it now, as an author, looking back on a great work of literature. Because even though justice is clearly subverted when Tom is wrongly imprisoned, justice is also very much served when Boo Radley comes to the defense of Scout and Jem in the book’s final scenes and when Bob Ewell “falls” — wink, wink — on his knife. Therein lies the nuance in the book.
And therein also lies what is so masterful about the TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The story can still very much be about justice without the verdict we all wanted. Because all along what the story is really all about is how to live every day with honor. It’s about how to do the right thing. And those are the lessons that Atticus Finch imparts to his children along the way. He says to them in reference to their neighbor, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.
You rarely win, but sometimes you do.
That’s why I chose to model the secret society in my novel after Harper Lee’s story. Because ultimately what her novel is about is a code of conduct. It’s about how to behave, how to treat each other and how to live. I’d like to believe that’s what the teens in THE MOCKINGBIRDS are also aspiring to as they strive to do the right thing.