To Kill A Mockingbird – by Harper Lee (1960)

To Kill A Mockingbird

“To Kill A Mockingbird” centers around the Finch family in the small fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression. The head of the household is Atticus, a widower and a lawyer, a man of deep religious and moral convictions. He has a son – Jem, a daughter – Jean Louise (Scout), and a black housekeeper – Calpurnia. Atticus is older than most fathers of young children in town, and the Finch family lives in a neighborhood of mostly senior citizens, so the children grow up mostly playing by themselves and being around older people. The first 80 pages or so focus on the day-to-day life and conversations of the Finch family, and set the base for the rest of the book.

Then the story really takes off. Atticus becomes the defense attorney for a black man charged with attempted rape of a white woman. As it is the 1930’s, there is still widespread segregation and mistrust between the two races. Many in town consider it disgraceful that Atticus is trying to get Tom Robinson acquitted. The racial prejudice affects everyone in town, either directly or indirectly.

There are many things to love in this classic novel – the close brother-sister relationship of Jem and Scout, the quirky character of the neighbors, the mystery of the man across the street, the depth of Atticus’ nature, and the two sides to Calpurnia. The amusing conversations of the children are mixed into the story to keep it from becoming too heavy and depressing. The account of the trial is very well written, and makes Atticus shine.

But the thing I enjoy most about this book is the way Atticus speaks to his children, as if they are grown-ups not children. He instills in them a love and respect for people of all racial and social groups. It doesn’t seem to bother him in the slightest when others disagree with him and mock him. Atticus teaches his family to walk to the beat of a different drummer, and to not be afraid when trouble comes.

Excerpt:

“Scout,” said Atticus, “when summer comes you’ll have to keep your head about far worse things . . . it’s not fair for you and Jem, I know that, but sometimes we have to make the best of things, and the way we conduct ourselves when the chips are down – well, all I can say is, when you and Jem are grown, maybe you’ll look back on this with some compassion and some feeling that I didn’t let you down. This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience – Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.”

“Atticus, you must be wrong . . .”

“How’s that?”

“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong . . .”

“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.”

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Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer – by John Grisham (2010)

Theodore Boone - Kid Lawyer

Theodore is the only child of a husband-wife lawyer team in the small town of Strattenburg. His father handles real estate deals, his mother divorce cases. He hangs out at his parents’ office after school, and is well-known at the local courthouse. Conversations at dinner often center around the law. At 13 years of age, Theo already has a better grasp of legal matters and defense strategies than most adults. His dream is to become a skilled lawyer like his parents.

Theo’s fascination with everything legal earns him the nickname “kid lawyer”. He answers classmates’ questions about the law. He also goes to the courthouse with his friend April to offer moral support. When the trial of accused killer Pete Duffy starts, the government class is allowed to see the opening arguments. Theo is immediately fascinated with the case, and gets personally involved.

Grisham’s first novel for pre-adults is a fun read. I enjoyed the unusual-ness of the Boone family. His close friendship with April, whose life is rather messed up, added to the story. Lastly, Theo’s crazy Uncle Ike was terrific. This story can be enjoyed by readers spanning middle-school, high school, and adult ages. A copy of this book can be found in the teen or young adult section of your local library.

House Rules – by Jodi Picoult (2010)

House Rules

The description inside this book will tell you that “House Rules” is about a young man – Jacob Hunt – who has Asperger’s Syndrome, and is charged with killing his tutor, Jess Ogilve. Did he really kill her? While the trial is a big part of the story, it seems to me that the real story is Jacob’s struggle to live day-to-day with Asperger’s, and how it affects every member of the family. The telling of the story rotates between Jacob, his mother Emma, his younger brother Theo, his attorney Oliver, and the police investigator Rich. The timeline jumps back and forth between the present and the years of Jacob as a child.

I came to appreciate each character in the story after reading their point of view. Emma’s love for her son, her patience, her willingness to do whatever it took to give her son a “normal” life, was inspiring. When Theo expressed how overlooked he felt over the years as all the attention was focused on his brother, I felt great sympathy for him. As Oliver and Rich told their parts of the story, I could see how conflicted they were about Jacob. And Jacob – it was just plain amazing to see how he viewed the world and the people around him.

After reading this book, I have a much better understanding of Asperger’s. There is a small amount of content and language that some readers may object to, but overall this is a well-written novel worth reading. It is also available as an audiobook, with different narrators reading the parts of the main characters.

Runaway Jury – by John Grisham (1996)

The Runaway Jury

How many ways can an individual on a jury manipulate his fellow jurors? Let us count the ways! Nicholas Easter has worked for years to get on this jury and has creative ways to get results. You will laugh and be amazed at the antics young Nicholas uses to get the verdict he’s been dreaming of.

But he’s not the only trying to get his way. A jury analyst named Fitch has been working behind the scenes with the lawyers for the defense, spending millions to get the verdict he wants.

Between Nicholas and Fitch stand the rest of the jurors. The author has created many interesting characters among them, with great discussions amongst themselves and in the jury room. Of all John Grisham’s novels, this is one of my favorites.

The audio version of this book is also great. Michael Beck is the narrator, and does a fine job. The novel was made into a movie, but so much of the story was changed that I cannot recommend it. Stick to the book or audiobook.