The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian have just published the first chapter of Go Set a Watchman—Harper Lee’s “sequel” to the 1960 classic To Kill a Mockingbird—which contains an unexpected disclosure that may come as a shock, especially to children.
The newly released novel takes place after the timing of To Kill a Mockingbird, with the character Scout now a young woman, but Lee actually wrote it first, prior to composing her Pulitzer Prize-winning book. Her editor liked the book, but suggested she revise it to focus on the flashback scenes of Scout as a child. The result was To Kill a Mockingbird, while her first book remained unpublished until now.
The classic book is well known to many, as the beloved characters of Atticus Finch and his young children Jean Louise “Scout” Finch and Jeremy Atticus “Jem” Finch were further immortalized in the 1962 film with Gregory Peck.
With the publication of this new novel, readers will learn what became of these familiar characters. If you want to discover the shocking revelation unveiled in the first chapter for yourself by reading the chapter online or buying the book, to be released on July 14, 2015, then read no further to avoid spoilers. But it may be helpful to you to know some of the key info about this new book and its well-loved characters before your child or teen picks it up.
Go Set a Watchman begins with Jean Louise Finch (Scout) traveling by train to visit her ailing father Atticus. The narrator reflects on Jean Louise’s childhood friend Henry, with whom she now has a romantic interest. As we’re told of Henry’s earlier years studying law at a university, the narrator reveals that it was during that time that “Jean Louise’s brother dropped dead in his tracks one day.” What?! Jem dies shortly after high school?!
Once past the initial shock of this new fictional reality, parents may want to use this book as a learning opportunity to discuss the difficult topics of death and the effects of old age. The book also offers other teachable themes, such as how society and people’s viewpoints evolve over time. Just as with the first novel, subjects of racism and sexism are prevalent. Even in the first chapter, Henry’s attitude toward Jean Louise may raise eyebrows for today’s modern readers and the references to race are off-putting. But taken in the context of the time it was written, this book offers a chance for young students to see how times have changed. Of course, since Scout is all grown up in this new book, other adult issues will also emerge, such as marriage and fidelity. Even the topic of religion may emerge, as the title, Go Set a Watchman, is taken from Isaiah 12:6. Fortunately, Scout’s strong sense of morality and rebellious attitude that readers admired in To Kill a Mockingbird appear to remain with her as an adult.
Before reading this sequel, you and your children may want to reread To Kill a Mockingbird to refresh your memory of the original story. Reading is a great summer learning activity, as is discussing how you and your kids would have written the ending to Harper’s classic novel!
Image via The Guardian