Rachel Smalter Hall's Reviews > I am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee

I am Scout by Charles J. Shields
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's review
Feb 27, 11

bookshelves: american, young-readers, memoirs-and-bios
Read from February 23 to 27, 2011

So I'm probably biased, having spent a few days with the author when he visited the library I work at for our To Kill a Mockingbird reading festival this spring. But any way you look at it, I think I am Scout provides a fair glimpse of the mysterious woman who penned To Kill a Mockingbird.

As any die-hard Mockingbird fan probably knows, Nelle Harper Lee has spent most of her life intensely protecting her privacy, ever since she was vaulted into fame in the months following the publication of her first novel. Yet, in spite of these difficult and opaque conditions, I think Shields has done a great job tracking down information, interviewing sources, and piecing together a plausible back story, especially when it comes to Lee's childhood, college, and early adulthood years.

My absolute favorite is Shields' description of Lee's relationship with her father. In the 1930s deep South, what an awesome guy Mr. Lee must have been to encourage his two daughters to enter college, pursue prestigious professional careers, and shatter the glass ceiling. Harper Lee's sister Alice is a practicing attorney to this day on the Alabama bar (in her nineties!), and it was Mr. Lee who gave Harper Lee and Truman Capote their very first typewriter, which they lugged up to their treehouse in the backyard to write detective stories on summer days.

Shields' style is easy and conversational, and I felt he was careful not to sensationalize Lee's life. What he successfully achieves in I am Scout (and probably it's adult counterpart, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee) is a fair and genteel sketch of the woman behind the twentieth century's most popular novel.

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