Review posted October 29, 2014.
Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2014. 166 pages.
I Kill the Mockingbird is a summer story about three best friends who are getting ready to start high school. When their teacher gives them the summer reading list, Lucy is delighted by the inclusion of To Kill a Mockingbird, which she has already read and loves. Lucy is disappointed, though, to learn how many of her classmates are not excited by the list.
So then Lucy gets an idea. What if they make To Kill a Mockingbird forbidden fruit? After accidentally knocking down a book display in a bookstore, she gets the idea of hiding copies of To Kill a Mockingbird inside stores and libraries.
“Here’s the thing. We are going to take copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, and we are going to make them disappear!”
“That’s called stealing,” says Michael.
I shake my head. “We’re not going to steal.”
“What are we going to do?” Elena asks.
I lower my voice. “Creative shelving. The books will never leave the store. We just put them in the wrong place.”
And that’s only the beginning.
“I think Lucy’s point is that people will want what they think they can’t have,” Elena tells him.
“Just because something is missing doesn’t mean people will want it,” Michael replies.
“Making books disappear is just the first step,” I say. “In fact, it’s the easy part. The hard part will be getting the word out. We need people to think that To Kill a Mockingbird has been banned or something.”
“You know what would be better?” says Elena. “If we could make people think that there’s some kind of conspiracy to keep the book out of circulation.”
“What?” says Michael.
“Seriously,” says Elena. “Conspiracy theories are great for sales.”
“There will be a conspiracy!” I say. “The conspiracy is us! Think about it. If you believed there was some kind of a plot to keep a book out of your hands, wouldn’t you want to read it?”
This book is the story of their conspiracy and how it gets out of their control. Don’t worry, parents – there are some consequences. But I felt it was a remarkably realistic portrayal about how middle school kids might actually pull something like this off.
There are some other things going on that add depth to the book. Lucy’s Mom has just come home from the hospital after almost dying of cancer. Many of their actions are in honor of their previous English teacher, Fat Bob, who did die suddenly during the school year. Lucy is thinking she might like to be more than friends with Michael. And all of them are thinking about starting high school.
I did have a few quibbles about the book. I never do like present tense fiction, though I didn’t find it as annoying as sometimes. And I wasn’t crazy – at all – about the teacher’s reading list. Not even one of the titles was written in the twenty-first century. And only two of the seven titles were written for children. Yes, I love To Kill a Mockingbird, but if you’re going to write a book encouraging kids to read books, I’d really like to see more titles that are actually written for kids, or at least for young adults.
Lucy says that she, Elena, and Michael have already read most of the books. And, okay, I can accept that Elena has grown up in a bookstore, and these are kids who really love to read. But don’t they have any actual children’s books that they love? Haven’t they read anything written recently? It just feels like a missed opportunity. And if that teacher were teaching my own child, I’d be very upset with that list.
Overall, though, this is a feel-good story of three young book lovers who create an internet sensation and spark attention and demand for one of the greatest books of all time.