I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora
Square Fish, 2015
Available: Hardcover, paperback, Kindle edition
I will preface this by saying it is not horror. It is, however, an amazing middle school/YA title that book lovers of all ages ought to know about, and I personally loved it.
I Kill the Mockingbird examines the effects of hope, love, grief, and literature on the lives of three teenagers who decide to become literary saboteurs as a tribute to their recently deceased English teacher, Fat Bob, who intended to assign just one book(his favorite) as summer reading: To Kill a Mockingbird. Lucy, Michael, and Elena are best friends and book lovers looking forward to summer reading, but as school lets out, the other students are unenthusiastic. Lucy devises a plan to get people reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and enlists Michael and Elena to help. The three of them decide to secretly create and publicize a conspiracy to make it impossible to find a copy of the book, traveling by bus to libraries and bookstores to hide all copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, and leaving flyers behind that advertise a website they’ve built to create buzz about their conspiracy. Taking advantage of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels, their little conspiracy rockets out of control as they build a following all over the country, with copycats hiding the book in other communities and demand for copies of To Kill a Mockingbird rising. Lucy’s summer also involves more personal grief, uncertainty, and growth, as she deals with her feelings when her mother returns home after a protracted and nearly fatal battle with cancer and considers whether she’s willing to risk her friendship with Michael by taking it a step further.
It’s wonderful to see how the lives and families of these three friends are so integrated and familiar with each other, and to see how independent and motivated these kids are, in a world where relationships seem to be fragmented by distance, overscheduling, and social media. And as a book lover, and someone who really believes in getting people (and especially kids) engaged in reading, this was an absolute joy to me. While the plot is well-paced, and the book is a quick read, books, reading, and discussions of the ideas in books (and especially in To Kill a Mockingbird) also have a major role. However, while these are integral, they are not didactic– exactly the kind of thing you would hope to see in the lives of book-loving teens and their families. Near the end of the book there is also a really fascinating part where the characters debate whether burning books, even library rejects, is ever acceptable. The practical application of this is never tested, though, leaving us to struggle with our own answer to that question.
The characters were complicated and enjoyable, the plot was original, and the story of these three teens as they grow and change, and change the world, during the summer between the end of middle school and the beginning of high school, just lifted my heart. I Kill the Mockingbird is a thoughtful, funny, sad, and inspiring book that offers no easy answers, and just might make you crack open a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird yourself.
As a final note, the publisher suggests this as an appropriate book for ages 10-14. On its own, I agree that this is appropriate for this age group, and would include older teens as well. However, I can see this book inspiring kids to try To Kill a Mockingbird, and some 10 year olds are still in fourth grade. Even Fat Bob, the eighth grade teacher in this book, suggests that it can be best read and understood after eighth grade. I suggest that discussion of this would be warranted with elementary aged children interested in taking this further.