I’m an English major. When JJ and Stuart proposed writing about the book that changed your life, my mind froze. Did they really want me to choose just one? I’m the girl with a million books stacked in her dorm room, more in boxes at home, and three times as many listed on my Barnes & Noble wishlist. I entertained several ideas, but kept returning to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

I first read the novel as a sophomore in a little New England high school and was astounded at how easily I could cross the Mason-Dixon line and engrain myself into Maycomb, Alabama. I could feel the stern warmth of Calpurnia, Scout’s complicated mix of annoyance and admiration of her brother Jem, and I could feel the fire of justice and equality emanating from Atticus Finch.

The first time I read it, I was caught up in Scout growing older, her relationship with her brother and father, with the imaginative Dill, spunky old Miss Maudie and her ever-present fascination with their elusive next door neighbor, Boo Radley. As I reread and got older, I found the darker undercurrents, sparking within me a harsh realization of the reality of racism and prejudice. My admiration and desire to be like Atticus Finch grew tenfold as he calmly defended not only his client, but himself and his family against the danger of prejudice.

As a self-proclaimed English nerd,  I have the habit of rereading my favorite books over and over again, relishing the faint smell of paper and faded ink, the crack of an overused spine, and the heft of it in my hand. These are the books that have seniority on my pine bookshelf, the ones that are marked with scraps of paper, handled as though they were a living-breathing entity and treated with the utmost care. They are rarely lent out, and only to those of a similar mindset as myself. The more precious they are to me, the less they touch the hands of others (read: you cannot borrow To Kill a Mockingbird). They call up memories, shading the faded ones with color once more, and giving depth to those I had forgotten the details of.

When I pick up To Kill a Mockingbird, I return to one of the happiest places in my high school career, Mrs. King’s English room. Surrounded by classmates as eager to read and joke and laugh as I was, led by a teacher who gave her whole heart and shared her love of literature and of people. I was hard pressed to return that beaten and school-worn book by Harper Lee, but the summer before my freshman year of college, a few friends and I went out for lunch and gelato with two of our teachers, stopping at the bookstore to see what treasures we could dig up. Mrs. King merely smiled when I held up a paperback copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and released it only to hand it to the cashier.

It was the first book on my shelf at SVU. Scout, Jem and Atticus travel with me each summer, returning home to New England over Christmas break, and back to BV come fall. I find some new and exciting detail with each careful reading, and never fail to enjoy it thoroughly. Why do I love the motley cast of characters and their divided town so well? Because Scout taught me I can be as good as the boys, and to open my mouth when I see something that rubs me wrong. Scout taught me, through her own actions and her perception of others, what real bravery is. Because Jem taught me that when the time comes, you’ll grow up, but you never stop having that little kid inside you. He taught me to protect others. Because Calpurnia taught me to stick to my guns and be fiercely loyal. Because Boo taught me that an act of kindness is never wasted. Because Atticus taught me to never relinquish my convictions, and to never allow someone else to be lost because of who they are, and who they appear to be to others, and to walk a mile in their shoes (Atticus also taught me that a dry wit is priceless). And because Harper Lee herself taught me perhaps one of my favorite lessons: write. Write your own mockingbird. “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” – Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird


Meghan is a staff writer and Creative Co-Director at The Accolade.

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