Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Title: Go Set a Watchman
Author: Harper Lee
Publisher: HarperCollins
Rating: 2/5 Stars
Hardcover, 278 Pages
Published July 2015
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Summary: Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch--"Scout"--returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past--a journey that can be guided only by one's conscience. 
Ever since the rumors of this book began, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. When it became an official announcement, I was even more excited. Then the cover came out and the hype really began. And I was more than excited. The day of this novel's release, I sent my dad straight to B & N to pick me up a copy. I power-read the remains of the book I had been currently reading so I could get my hands on this one. Being a huge fan of To Kill a Mockingbird and having it be one of the few books I've read in my high school years that truly touched me and stuck with me, I was practically salivating over the idea of having this book in my hands and being able to read what would eventually down the line be considered a piece of history.

But I was left miserably disappointed. This book was nothing like To Kill a Mockingbird. So disappointingly different that popular news stations have even been running articles and newscasts about the public's outrage. Yes, I went into this book expecting it to not be as great in quality as To Kill a Mockingbird was. Harper Lee must've had a reason for not publishing it for all these years - she didn't even want it to be published now. So I went into this book feeling a little weary, because if the author herself isn't crazy about the book, how could I be crazy about it?

But I didn't expect to be this disappointed. I still expected the same amazing quality that Harper Lee was able to deliver in To Kill a Mockingbird. I was expecting a little lack in the plot and the actual story - but not the novel's actual construction. And there was a lot of that. I'm going to talk about what bothered me first, then some spoilers (which will be carefully marked for you so you won't stumble upon them by accident and have the whole story ruined for you), and then what I didn't dislike. 

What bothered me was that the actual story took place over a span of 2-3 days. That's it. Each day and each situation was dragged on for so long that the book managed to contain a day or two's worth of material in 278 pages. That's a clear indication that scenes are dragged on. What also bothered me was that there were far too many typos in this book for my taste. I understand that sometimes things happen, maybe one or two errors, but there were handfuls in this book. Simple typing errors that I managed to pick up right away - things that I'm surprised that several editors had missed. It seemed me to that Harper seemed to be in such a rush to get the book out to the masses that they didn't even take the time to make sure everything in it was correct and ready for publication. That fact normally isn't a big deal, but it irks me a little bit because Harper books are always meticulously crafted and these multiple errors were a clear indication that the book was just rushed out for the sake of being rushed out. Which is a disappointment in and of itself. The story itself just didn't wow me at all - the fact that it's told in third-person POV when To Kill a Mockingbird is told in first-person. Also, what was the deal with And Scout is called Jean Louise the entire book. I don't know - I just really wasn't crazy about it. Those were the things that bothered me.

The actual textual thing that bothered me was that Jean Louise's thoughts weren't italicized. The entire book was in third person and all of a sudden in the same paragraph it would switch to first person without any indication of italics or quotes or commas or anything. It was a very, very difficult book to follow.

Some spoilers about the book that I want to discuss are in this paragraph. Please skip to the next paragraph if you have not yet read the book and/or don't want it spoiled for you! Okay, so a few things about this book made me really upset. One was definitely that Atticus was definitely more of a racist in this book - his talks with Scout towards the end of the book definitely prove it. The fact that her uncle admits that Atticus was a member of the KKK upset me so much that I put the book down in shock. Even when Uncle Jack tried to justify it to Scout, I still didn't see it as justified. I was shocked. Scout looked up to Atticus as a father, but I looked up to him as an upstanding character with amazing morals an definitely one of the better people in the world that everyone should try to be. I just can't imagine how English teachers are going to talk about Atticus in class now - I remember doing a specific essay in English where I had to write about Atticus being a great example of fantastic morals and standing up for what is right no matter what other people think. This book proves that he isn't the great, fantastic man we once read about, and I felt severely let down and punched in the gut upon reading that.

(Still more spoilers, proceed to next paragraph.) Two other things in this book severely upset me. One was Jem's death - it was mentioned various times but only explained vaguely and briefly in one part of the book - and I'm still not sure if they were saying he had a heart attack or something else. The other part was Calpurnia's outright shortness to Scout, the little girl she had raised - she turned her back right on her when it came to drawing a line between the races. I felt almost the same as I did when I found out that Atticus was a member of the KKK - punched in the gut and severely let down. How the book ended was severely puzzling and frustrating for me as well - it ends totally out of the blow 

What I did enjoy about the book was seeing some of the world's most famous literary characters coming back in this book. Harper Lee never outright discusses anything that happened in To Kill a Mockingbird, but several things are alluded to. (One being when Scout tells Atticus that she remembers "that rape case" he had handled once - referring to the Tom Robinson case that was the center of To Kill a Mockingbird.) I liked seeing these characters again and reconnecting with them and seeing how Maycomb and its citizens changed and grew. That's mainly why I picked up this book, and in that respect I was not disappointed. 

All in all, Go Set a Watchman was a book that had so much hype surrounding it but ended up being a bit of a let down. I knew to expect less of this book than from To Kill a Mockingbird, but I received way less than I was expecting. I still encourage everyone to pick up the book and give it a try themselves - you never know what you'll end up liking and disliking. I still do not regret reading this book because even though quality-wise it may not shine alongside To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman is still an incredible piece of history that will be spoken about for years and possibly decades to come - I will look back on this and say I had the honor of reading the last published book by one of the world's most famous authors during her lifetime.



  1. Yeah I have no clue what this book is about. To Kill A Mockingbird is still yet to be read and I'm actually not interested in it despite many people saying how great it is. But wow, for there to be many typos in a book where the author's previous book was a Pulitzer Prize–winning novel :O That's just crazy. But it does sound strange that the author didn't even want to publish it.

    ~Karina @ A Reader Under The Sea

  2. I've been hearing such disappointing things about this book. Particularly about Atticus. (I skipped your spoiler section so I don't know if that's something you discussed.) I really have no desire to have my image of Atticus tarnished. In some ways I feel like this book was doomed from the start. How in the world does anything live up to TKAM? Anything would have been found inferior. But knowing the little that I know of GSAW, I think I might just give it a pass.

    Tanya @ Girl Plus Books


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