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Opinion: ‘Mockingbird’ sequel needs to be judged on its own merits

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In an August 31, 2001, file image at the Stage Coach Cafe in Stockton, Ala., the author Harper Lee, who wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird." A recently-discovered sequel, "Go Set a Watchman," is due to be published in July 2015. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

In an August 31, 2001, file image at the Stage Coach Cafe in Stockton, Ala., the author Harper Lee, who wrote ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ A recently-discovered sequel, ‘Go Set a Watchman,’ is due to be published in July 2015. Credit: Courtesy of TNS.

President John F. Kennedy was elected president the year Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” was first published. With the book’s sequel being released this year, Lee knows how to keep a crowd waiting.

A manuscript of the sequel, titled “Go Set A Watchman,” was discovered by Lee’s lawyer in fall 2014, attached to a typescript copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, according to a HarperCollins Publishing press release.

But there is a twist — apparently Lee wrote this sequel to “Mockingbird” before even considering writing the classic novel that has come to be a staple in high-school classrooms across the country.

In the release, Lee said she wrote “Go Set a Watchman” in the 1950s featuring Scout as an adult woman.

“My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel from the point of view of the young Scout. I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told,” Harper said in the release. “I hadn’t realized it had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”

The novel, set in 1950s Alabama, will examine Scout’s “personal and political (issues) as she tries to understand her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood,” according to the press release.

People are excited. The book hit No. 1 on Amazon’s best-seller list, and it won’t even be released until July.

Molly Farrell, assistant professor in the Ohio State Department of English, said the release of Lee’s second novel all these years later could change readers’ outlook on Lee.

“Harper Lee has spun a mystique for her readers, given that she shied away from the spotlight, and another novel might change the way people view her,” she said.

I have to agree with Farrell. I read “Mockingbird” in high school like everyone else in the country. I laughed when, during Tina Fey’s acceptance speech for the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, she said she expected to be more eligible for the “Harper Lee Prize for small bodies of work.”

This Harper Lee fun fact has become a staple in American culture. The day of the announcement, I read a tweet from the president of the Boo Radley Society at OSU (known for random acts of kindness across campus) that said “Really hoping that Boo Radley doesn’t turn out to actually be a psycho in the TKAM sequel… Otherwise @BooRadleyOSU is gonna get awkwaaard.”

Humor aside, to me, this shows exactly how much “Mockingbird” has influenced people’s lives, and I’m interested to see if the sequel will have a similar influence. Especially with the racial tension going on across our country right now, I think Lee’s 1950s-set sequel might just shine a brighter light on these issues at just the right time.

Farrell also told me that she hopes readers will approach “Watchman” as not just the sequel to the beloved “Mockingbird,” but as a work of its own.

As long as readers “don’t expect a new ‘Mockingbird’ but rather are open to exploring a new work distinct unto itself, then they won’t be disappointed in their efforts to understand Lee and the market for her books in a new way,” she said.

I do agree with this, and think that no book should be judged by another book, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to be reunited with Scout and Atticus once more.

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