Written by Paul Acampora
I Kill the Mockingbird is about three eighth grade students who set out on a mission to get people to read the iconic classic To Kill a Mockingbird in memory of their English teacher who passed away. Their plan is to use social media and something they term “literary terrorism” (I love that phrase and all the principles they put behind it) to spurn interest in the beloved novel by Harper Lee.
I decided that I had to pick up this book because I am a sucker for anything that decides to take its cues from classic works of literature. And although To Kill a Mockingbird is not particularly my favorite work in that vein, I do have some partiality towards it since I did a rather brilliant critique paper on it (okay, maybe not brilliant exactly) while I was studying literary criticism in college. Most of the time when authors try to mess with the classic literary volumes that I cherish it doesn’t go well, in my opinion. I end up getting frustrated with what I feel like is a lack of respect for the original text in the name of being edgy or unconventional. Anyhow, I am often disappointed. But I was very happy to find that Acampora did an excellent job of incorporating the spirit of Mockingbird into his story.
The first thing that struck me about this book was the narrative style. Okay, so I am often VERY aware of narrative form and it can definitely affect how well I like a book. I am automatically disinclined to like a book if uses certain formats (1st person-present, for example), which this novel does. But despite my predisposition to dislike its narrative style, I actually found that the format didn’t bother me as much as I expected. I think that speaks to the quality of the story and characterization in this book.
I was surprised that an adult male author chose to write under the guise of a young, teenage girl narrator in first person. I am often wary when an author decides to tell their story from the point of view of the opposite gender (I know this may seem like a little bit of chauvinism, but I think it’s often very hard for a member of the opposite sex to capture the emotional tone of the other gender). But I actually thought that Acampora did an excellent. And in truth, I really liked his representation in this female main character because it felt less whiny and dramatic than feminine characters are often portrayed, particularly by lady authors. The characterization for Lucy was excellent – I liked her and I felt she was truly genuine in her responses.
I also liked pretty much all of the other characters. Lucy’s best friends and co-conspirators, Elena and Michael, were great. They had a lot of personality and were pretty darn funny, too. I loved Lucy’s mother, a cancer survivor who had such great little nuggets of wisdom to share, as well as her hugely supportive father. I loved Elena’s book-selling uncle and guardian, Mort – anyone who deals in books is really cool in my opinion – and even the dorky Mr. Dobby (another book dealer) who seemed to take the brunt of all the “literary terrorism” so personally. Great characterization overall.
The book deals with some hard themes: death, disease, that sort of thing. But these ideas are dealt with in very positive and uplifting ways. Kids who may have experienced some of these things in their life could find some great insight and comfort through some of the discussions they have. I thought the author did an excellent job of balancing complicated life issues with entertainment in this book. I also really like the way that he portrayed the young romance of the story. It was so easy and natural – nothing forced or over-the-top. Thank you, Paul Acampora for presenting a “romance” I can dig for the youth and not contriving it into something I wanted to gag over.
Another thing I liked about this book was how the author used current technologies and personalities. Social media plays a huge role in this book and I loved to see how the characters used it to make their mark on the world. It made everything feel very relevant. I also have to say that I LOVED the discussion the friends have about Will Wheaton – maybe this will only be as hilarious to older, geeky types as it was to me, but I was totally cracking up. It was my favorite part of the whole book.
As is probably evident, I am a fan of this book. It is simple enough for middle grade readers, but also has some great stuff in it to appeal to us older, literary types. It was a good, fast read – I was so glad to find a short book that didn’t take much time or energy, but still had some depth. I would definitely recommend it.
Review by Rachelle Funk, Skyline High Media Center
Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5 stars)
Interest Level: 7-10th grade
Author Website: http://www.paulacampora.com/
I Kill the Mockingbird
Written by Paul Acampora
Roaring Book Press
Release Date: May 20, 2014
ISBN: 9781596437425 (hardcover)