Goodreads: I Kill the Mockingbird
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is Lucy’s all-time favorite book and she looks forward to having to read it for school over the summer. Not everyone shares her enthusiasm for homework, however, so, along with her friends Elena and Michael, she conceives a plan to get everyone excited about reading. By hiding the copies of the book in stores, Lucy plans to create a shortage of To Kill a Mockingbird that will convince people they really want to read it. After all, everyone wants something if they can’t have it, right? However, the plan quickly spirals out of control as others across the nation start joining in the action. Can the children redirect people to the joy of reading or have they unwittingly started a real censorship campaign?
I Kill the Mockingbird promises a delightful story about the power of books to influence lives. The trio of book nerds who act as protagonists only adds to the charm. Stories may be in part about learning to understand those different from us, but it is also important to have characters in whom readers can see themselves. Book lovers everywhere will thus rejoice to have not one but three unabashedly voracious readers to enjoy, along with their bookish arguments about the merits of various pieces of literature. This story seems a book lover’s dream come true.
Unfortunately, though the story begins promisingly with the usual elements of a solid middle-grade story–family problems, crush anxieties, school disappointments–that all quickly takes a back seat to the main plot, which is the hiding of Harper Lee’s famous book so no one can buy it. The protagonists justify their weird plan by saying that people always want what they cannot have and that making people believe a conspiracy theory exists to keep To Kill a Mockingbird off shelves will drive them to the book. Their plan, however, is ill-conceived and unbelievable, and the resulting plot is really just confusing.
First of all, I was truly appalled by the plan just on moral grounds. The protagonists argue that they are not stealing books, just hiding them, but they first conceive the idea from a store manager who explains the idea of shrinkage to them. Basically, shrinking in a store is lost product for which the store does not get money. This could result from employee theft, shoplifting, paper errors, or more, but the trio decides to create it by reshelving the books within the store so no one can find or buy them. The books may not be physically leaving the store, but when inventory has to be done and the goods are missing, the store doesn’t really care if the books were “properly stolen” or not–they still lost the money. Purposely creating shrinkage simply cannot be justified and I particularly wondered at their attempts to create it in indie bookstores, which are much more likely to feel the effects, when Elena’s uncle runs an independent bookstore himself. Their reasoning simply cannot be justified and I wondered the story even attempted to do so.
Secondly, the plot is just unbelievable. Bookstores have security cameras. The children would have been caught immediately. And when they started a website and social media accounts to spread the “conspiracy,” someone would have probably tried to trace the accounts back to them, once the campaign grew too big. Because, thanks to their great social media skills, people across the nation start taking copies of To Kill the Mockingbird off the shelves–probably through actual shoplifting and not through creative shelving. They basically started a nationwide crime spree that is big enough to garner media attention and no one cares enough to stop it.
Finally, the message of the book is just confusing. The protagonists want people to get excited about reading, but their weird plot looks like censorship and the copycats who start taking books probably, although the book never really addresses it, actually don’t want other people to read Harper Lee’s classic. And it’s Harper Lee’s book they’re taking, so it’s probably a race issue. Yet the ending turns into some sort of weird celebration–for what, I don’t know. The protagonists think it’s a celebration for reading, but no one knows their plan so is everyone else celebrating censorship? How are readers to respond to this ending?
Ultimately, I Kill the Mockingbird fails to deliver the uplifting story about the love of reading it promises, instead miring itself in a messy, confused plot. In the end, I would have preferred that the story focus on its characters and their relationships, acting as more of a coming-of-age story than as an attempted celebration of the love of books. That storyline would have served it better and been more believable.