I Am Scout Review

 

I Am Scout cover art

I Am Scout cover art

 

 

Shields, Charles J.  I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee.  New York: Henry Holt and Company.  2008.  

212 Pages

Grades 7-10

Q3 – P3 – J – S

To Kill a Mocking Bird is likely to be the first piece of required high school literature that an American teenager really enjoys and engages with.  It’s accessible and relevant to them on many levels and across a broad spectrum of teen types; to me, it is a supremely perfect entity (Q5 – P5 – J – S.  Know what I mean?).  It’s also the only novel Harper Lee ever wrote which is a bummer.  Enter Charles Shields I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee, the informatively written supplemental reading to the original beloved text.  Shields is also the author of the New York Times bestseller Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, which he has adapted here for younger readers.  Still, readers of all ages will enjoy the parallels between Lee’s life and To Kill a Mocking Bird and many of the antidotal tales about Lee and her life are fascinating (One of the best bits is Shields retelling a satirical one act play Lee wrote for her conservative college newspaper called “Now Is the Time For All Good Men”).  Lee is indeed the Scout character many readers fall in love with when the read To Kill a Mocking Bird.  

The portrait that Shields paints of Lee is vivid, endearing, and honest.  She saw the art in everyday life, was a languid sophisticate type, a nonconformist who’s every action was uncontrived and practical.  She models to teens the importance of being happy with yourself rather than trying to be something your not in order to please others and fit it.  Readers will admire her from her feisty tom boy nature as a child to her adolescent rebellion against the status quo’s of success, the feminine ideal and southern racial prejudice.  Teens will also relate to her struggle to live up to her parents ideals and her family’s struggle with her mother’s mental illness. 

Shields has gathered a great deal from interviews with the citizens of Montgomery, Lee’s old  college room mates, friends, and relatives.  Several pictures are also included.  The book is well researched and Shields also includes lots of setting details as to the social situation of the south and the country at different times and places in Nelle’s life.  The vivid settings, when tied to the strong character of Lee, make the book the perfect mix between setting driven and character driven; Lee shows aspiring writers how to mine a wealth of material from their city block or country road as well as their own unique personality.

Readers will also enjoy the details of her equally unique friend since childhood and literary great, Truman Capote.  Nelle’s role in helping Capote research and write the book In Cold Blood might lead the reader to branch out into the true crime genre and continue reading.  The book also encourages the reader to think about why Lee never wrote another novel and shows her negative reaction to the fame and attention she received after the novels unanticipated success.  

The cover art pictures a, “rugged, steel-encased black Underwood No. 5” typewriter that is sure to attract aspiring writers in addition to fans of To Kill a Mocking Bird who want to know more about Lee.  In the end, the reader walks away with the knowledge that, “the people who have made peace with themselves are the people I admire most in the world.”  Lee is so comfortable in her own unique skin, unconcerned with what society tells her she should be, and this is indeed what the reader comes to admire most about her.

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