This post is a little bit different than my usual ones, so sorry if you expected a review! Usually, I try to not get too personal on my blog; I write about my own opinion, but not too much about my own experiences.
But this week is special. This week Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is being released. This is unique, so I figured it was okay to do a different post too. A post that talks about how To Kill A Mockingbird has shaped me as a person and why I'm so excited about Harper Lee's new book. (Disclaimer: I am very well aware about the controversy surrounding this new release and it absolutely breaks my heart to think that Harper Lee is being used. However, there is no way to ever find out the truth about this issue, so I will not dwell on it on this blog.)
I've read so many books in my lifetime that many have blurred together. The ones I love and the ones I hate become one big pile of "books I've read and will never look at again". Fortunately, every now and then there is a book that doesn't blur into anything. That doesn't mesh with anything else. It's unique and will always stand out in my mind. Harper Lee's book is one of those.
I've read the book when I was 18 (2008) and had no idea about any kind of racial issues in the world. My family moved from the Netherlands to Belgium when I was six and what ensued was years of bullying because I had a different accent. When a girl from Ghana joined my school and was left out, I related to her. It was the same thing, right? Yes, there used to be racial issues, but that was so long ago that it was irrelevant in my mind. I became friends with her, because I honestly believed we were going through exactly the same thing.
More than ten years later, I read To Kill A Mockingbird and realised it's not the same thing at all. I realised that there is years/centuries of history that made my situation and the one from my friend completely different from each other.
Yes, I had history in high school and learned the mandatory stuff about slavery and Rosa Parks, but I never really understood it. Harper Lee's novel gave me real people with the events. This wasn't discussing "some random person from ages ago", this felt like I knew the character and I really felt the injustice. I was so shocked by the book and the fact that apparently this kind of stuff really happened that I responded just like Dill does during the courtcase. And once I realised it really happened, I suddenly couldn't stop seeing that it was still happening in different ways today.
Since then, I've been lucky to have had an amazing Gender Studies teacher, the wonderful Dr. Mykoff, who has opened my eyes to injustice and inequality everywhere. She didn't just teach me historical events; she let me read diaries, letters, and books that showed me that every person in history is far more similar to me than I thought. They are real people with real emotions and when they're black, there is a massive struggle that seems like it can never be won. Even though I'll never fully understand that struggle, I've learned to respect it and to be helpful in whatever way possible.
Every time I see something about racism in America, and unfortunately I see it way too often lately, I think back about To Kill A Mockingbird. About how real those characters felt to me. It's a reminder that a picture on the news isn't just a picture, it's a person with a story. It also reminds me that our world is flawed. That I can't believe everything I've been told. It's made me critical of the media, people around me and myself. It's so easy for me to ignore these issues, because I'm so lucky and privileged, but Harper Lee taught me not to. She taught me that even if one person, like Atticus, stands up, it can change things. We need to see the world for what it is and stop trying to ignore serious issues.
Harper Lee changed the way I look at life and made me the person I am today. She started me on the journey of becoming aware of things and for that, I am so grateful for her. To Kill A Mockingbird made me a more emphatic person and I can't wait to return to that world to learn more from her.
Thank you, Harper Lee.