Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora

Eighth graders Lucy, Elena, and Michael want to get people excited about reading their late teacher's favorite book and one on the summer reading list, "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee. It is the beginning of summer vacation and they hatch a conspiracy named, "I Kill the Mockingbird," where they make it hard to get the book by hiding them in bookstores and libraries; hence, limiting the supplies to the public.Then they setup a website and social media campaign inspiring others to do the same. When a famous man tweets about it the campaign goes viral and escalates out of control. The three decide to end it with a big bang having a book burning party. I've acted out books before, but never imitated a book burning bonfire. Thank goodness the characters change their minds on that thought. Book burning is not a good idea and would have landed 'em in a heap o' trouble. Their initial idea is to burn a thousand pages of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and create a big finish to their scheme of getting people excited over reading it. They take old weeded library books from a dumpster and are going to burn them saying it is Harper Lee's book. Their intentions are to honor their dead English teacher through the creation of a funeral pyre in memory of his favorite book, but most are going to misconstrue it as rebellious behavior against reading or think of it as a metaphor of demagoguery, censorship, and suppression.

While the plot is somewhat silly, the character development and dialogue are powerful. I laughed time-after-time with the author's unique phrases and hilarious banter between the threesome. Elena is a hoot and culprit of most, while Michael offers opposing viewpoints and is his own person, and Lucy narrates while dealing with her mother's cancer. While discussing their book burning Elena jumps on the tricycle that African American Michael is peddling and he turns and says, "This isn't Driving Miss Daisy." Earlier Elena is described as looking like a doll that Santa leaves under the Christmas tree. She is also described as a black-haired bulldozer in a pink dress. She's a bit out-of-control which makes her a gas. Michael is figuring out his Little League options and what is best for himself as he and Lucy deal with feelings they are having for each other. All three are anxious about starting high school next year. The trio call themselves "literary terrorists" and the nonstop references to literature are great fun. Oddly, the dead teacher is stereotyped as fat. The author does a great job not making the characters sound too adult. My favorite line is Mark Twain being referenced as an "equal opportunity buffoon maker."

Lucy's mom is recovering from cancer and doesn't take care of herself. Lucy nags her about her unhealthy eating habits and at the end shows how scared she is of her dying. Her mom has a pretty healthy attitude on death even if she doesn't on eating right. The irony adds depth to the storyline. The conversations on religion do not moralize but tend to be funny. When Elena and Lucy are doing a photo-shoot for Lucy's mom as Joseph and the Virgin Mary, she asks Elena to have more "wonder" on her face. Elena quips, "'If I am the Mother of God, then I wonder why I just gave birth in a barn.'" She turns to me [Lucy]. "'Joe, you couldn't do a little better with accommodations?'" Joe [Lucy that is] responds that is what you get for falling for the first angel that came along. "Elena gazes up at the sky and sighs. "'He looked like Johnny Depp, and he promised he'd show me heaven." Later Lucy describes praying to St. Lucy, "My namesake is the patron saint of eye disorders, and her statue is supposed to remind us not to sit too close to the TV screen." She goes on to describe the statue, St. Lucy, holding a tray with two gouged eyeballs on it. St. Lucy poked out her eyes to avoid marrying a pagan. "Now I know that the Catholic thing can be seriously weird sometimes." Another time when Lucy discusses faith she says she doesn't know if it is better to believe in miracles or the randomness of life. Nothing is forced down the readers throat.

Michael presents a fresh opposing viewpoint to Harper Lee's book that is thought-provoking. He calls the protagonist a white tomboy that "worships her father in a town filled with whacky racist Christians and lynch-mob farmers. It's a comedy about old-timey southern people who treat each other badly." He goes on to point out that Atticus Finch isn't a very good lawyer ending up with three executed clients and letting a murderer go free. Later Elena's father, Mort, points out that mockingbirds are aggressive, liars, unconscionable,and territorial as opposed to being a symbol of innocence. When Michael asks if he is joking Mort replies, "contradiction and paradox are the building blocks of great humor." The author practices what Mort preaches as this is found throughout the text.While the short text makes for a good read aloud and discussion, I did wish the plot was longer than 166 pages as I wanted to spend more time with the characters. I know I'll be looking for more books by this author.

4 Smileys

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