I’m going to start a new tradition here. I’m going to talk about two books that have changed my life every Tuesday. (Hence the title). Sometimes, they will have related themes and sometimes they will be totally different from each other. Today’s two have related themes.
The first is To Kill A Mockingbird, which I am sure is on everyone’s list. But. This book is what made me decide I wanted to be a lawyer (in 4th or 5th grade). And I refused to deviate from that path. I still love this book and try to reread it every year. I think it’s one of the most important books every written in this country. It speaks to discrimination – not just based on race (see Boo Radley.) It speaks to family. It speaks to justice. It speaks to race. It is a book that I think every school aged child should be required to read – “N” words and all. The book not only made me want to be a lawyer, it informed how I think of race and people who are “different” in all the best ways.
It also made me curious about Harper Lee. Until Go Set A Watchman was published (which I think was wrong on many, many levels), it was the only book she had ever published. And the only book published during her life time. Some people may only have one story to tell. In this case, it was one of the most important stories that could be told.
Fast forward to 2017. I picked up The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas when it first came out. I had read some rave reviews and heard fabulous things about the book. And it did not disappoint. Far and away the best book I read last year (and I read some really good books), The Hate U Give is the To Kill A Mockingbird for the 21st century. Starr Carter is the only witness to a police officer shooting and killing her best friend. The book hits all the hot-button issues of today – race, policing, poverty, wealth, inter-racial dating. And it hits them perfectly. I still am in awe that this book was Angie Thomas’ first. The characters are fully developed and the story is compelling. I really didn’t want it to end. It was the perfect story, as far as I am concerned.
Having a teenage son (albeit not a minority), who attends a minority school, this book gave me a glimpse of high school today and the issues that teenagers have to confront. I never had to worry about whether my African-American friends were going to be killed by the police when I was in high school, something my son worries about every day. I am thankful that Angie Thomas wrote this book.
Both of these books had a profound impact on me. While separated by 57 years, the themes and issues presented in each book are extremely similar. The injustice of a black man wrongfully convicted for raping a white woman and a white police officer who wrongfully kills a black teen present the same questions – What is justice? Is the system inherently racist? Why do people automatically shun those who are different? Why do people automatically believe a white person’s version of events? What do you do in an inherently unfair world? These questions are not answered in this books, at least not completely. But they do provide food for thought.
I’ll be back next Tuesday with two more books that changed my life. Happy reading.