To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is without a doubt, one of the best books ever written. It is a beautiful story, told with lyrical simplicity, easy to read, easy to understand, funny, sad, and very, very powerful in its themes.
The story is told by a woman, Jean Louise Finch, aka Scout, looking back to her childhood in a small, southern US town, and describing how it came about that her brother's arm was broken. The time is 1935, an era when racism was the natural order of the day and questioned by almost no one, unexplained, and inexplicable to the children as it is revealed to them.
It is revealed to Scout when her father, the lawyer Atticus Finch, is required to defend a black man who has been accused of raping a white woman. Bit by bit, story by story, the frailties and the courage of the grown ups around them are revealed. What looks like annoyance, hypocrisy or cowardice, turns out to be something else: An annoying old woman is facing death; a prissy aunt is facing down the gossips; even the girl at the centre of the crime was, outside this incident, trying to rise above her environment.
Some people wonder why this is such a greatly loved book. A lot of other books have greater pretensions. This one is not pretentious. Anyone who can read, can read this. It is the best book about parenting ever. It is also a wonderful book for teaching children how to look beneath the surface of things in literature and in life.