As Harper Lee’s 89th birthday approaches, fans eagerly await her “new” novel


Photo: Universal Studios

Harper Lee sits on the set of “To Kill a Mockingbird” with Mary Badham as Jean Louise “Scout” Finch. The movie was released in 1962. Now, more than fifty years later, Lee is set to publish her second novel — called “Go Set a Watchman” — this summer.

Most authors dream of publishing a best-selling novel. Whether it takes them seven books to get there, or every book they pen debuts on the best-selling list, it’s likely that most authors’ greatest desire is to get their name out in the public mind.

The success of To Kill a Mockingbird, a well-loved, literary classic, is why almost every student across the nation reads the novel at some point during high school. First published in 1960, Harper Lee’s only novel, about racial prejudice in the South during the Great Depression, became an American classic, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1961.

Now Lee is publishing her second book — called Go Set a Watchman — which is set to hit the shelves in the summer of 2015. After her first and only book received so much acclaim in the 55 years since it was published, fans are brimming with anticipation for her new novel.

The premise of Go Set a Watchman will be very similar to the original book. This is because it features a familiar face: tomboy Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, the protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird, as an adult.

This new novel is what Lee originally intended to publish as her first book. Upon reading the manuscript, however, her publisher was intrigued by one of Scout’s vivid flashbacks and insisted Lee write and publish To Kill a Mockingbird instead.

Now, the literary community is abuzz with excitement to finally get their hands on Lee’s “new” material. Surprisingly, this news excites some and upsets others.

Junior Caitlyn Black said she feels Go Set a Watchman might not live up to the high expectations.

“I think it’s not going to be as good as the original,” Black said. “Normally the sequels to books aren’t really as good because all of the imagination focuses on the first book and the second book kind of rides off of that.”

Senior Sara Sweeterman reiterated a similar idea.

“You see that a lot of times. When the second book comes out, people are really hyped up about it, and then it comes out and people are kind of disappointed,” she said. “I feel like that might happen again with this book. It’s just like when J.K. Rowling’s new book came out after the Harry Potter series; everyone was super excited about it, but then it just kind of flopped.”

Despite this, nearly everyone seems to be excited to get their hands on new material because of their passion for the first novel.

“I really liked To Kill a Mockingbird,” Sweeterman said. “It was one of the books that I actually enjoyed reading in high school.”

Black agreed, praising the novel for its realistic setting. “It really captures what it was like back in the 1930s,” said Black.

There are definitely avid fans of Harper Lee who are distinctly not excited for her new novel. English teacher Darren McGarvey is one of those people.

“I am pro-Harper Lee and anti-her new book,” McGarvey said. “Girl needs to lock that thing away.”

McGarvey explained that he feels this way because he loves the original content so much that he’d rather not have it changed, even if the new book is very successful.

“To me, To Kill a Mockingbird is something that should just stay as is,” he said. “Even though Harper Lee poured her heart and soul into another piece of fiction, I’d rather it not be connected to a book that I see as perfect on its own.”

McGarvey is truly in love with To Kill a Mockingbird for many reasons.

“I love that it’s a very simple story, yet there are many complexities about it. I love the sense of childhood innocence,” he said.

It’s also a book that has a lot to teach, which is why McGarvey has enjoyed teaching this book to his students in previous years. “This is a book that you want every student to read,” the East Unit teacher explained.

“I think the issues that are in that book are issues that we still deal with 74 years later. We still are dealing with issues of race, issues of differences, issues of classes, issues of single-parent households, that loss of innocence that I talked about. We deal with all of those things,” McGarvey said. “Even Atticus having to shoot the dog and the relationship with Boo Radley; there are so many things to learn from that book. And because of that, I wonder why any teacher wouldn’t want to teach something with so many opportunities to teach.”

It is because of all this love that McGarvey has for Lee’s first novel that he is so passionately against her new book — or at least is going to wait to read it until all the excitement has died down.

“Right now, my stance is that I’m not going to pursue it,” he said.

Whether her new book is a success, or it’s simply not as good as To Kill a Mockingbird, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind — especially McGarvey’s — that her first book will always be a classic.

“If you could only read one book — or two or three — this should be one of them,” he said.