It's hard to imagine now, but four decades ago, in my part of the world even second hand books were hard to come by. Growing up, I read anything and everything that fell into my hands. Not caring, and often not knowing what books were considered "classics," I certainly read both novels before hitting double digits. "Of Mice and Men" disturbed me. I tried one more by Mr Steinbeck, "The Red Pony", and decided never to read another of his novels. Yet, almost forty years later, I still recall characters and the plot lines from both Steinbeck's novels - disturbing, yes - but also insightful, powerful and moving. If I had to sum up "Of Mice and Men" in one word, it would be "raw".
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is harder to define with one word. Finding a kindred soul in Miss Harper's narrator, I shared her outrage at the teacher who berated Scout for reading and writing above her age group. Like Scout and children everywhere, I struggled to understand adults. Scout and Jem begin to realise that one way to understand another person's motives is to stand on their porch, or walk in their shoes, so the underlying reason for seemingly senseless actions becomes clearer. There's no excuse for ignorance, but ignorance breeds fear, and it is painful to speak out when you're frightened. Maybe understanding why people chose to remain ignorant is the first step to enlightenment. Maybe that's a good word to sum up Miss Lee's literary gift to the world: Enlightening.
If you have a young person in your life, give them a copy of "To Kill a Mockingbird". It's a story that grows with the reader, and with each re-reading, and they will never forget that it was you who introduced them to this timeless classic.