Books & More from the Teen Scene

Book reviews and other reflections from one of Oregon's young adult librarians

“I am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee” by Charles J. Shields October 9, 2011

Shields, Charles J. I am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2008. 212 pp. ISBN: 0805083340

Cover image for "I am Scout"

Cover images courtesy of GoodReads.com

Annotation:

Aside from knowing that she authored one of the most enduring American classics, To Kill a Mockingbird, few people know much about the life and times of Harper Lee. Charles Shields builds her story from extensive interviews from those who have known the reclusive author, shining a light on her childhood, life as a writer, and reasons for never publishing again after the meteoric success of her book.

Review:

Charles Shields has been much lauded for the careful research that drove a masterfully written biography of Harper Lee. Although most American young adults read To Kill a Mockingbird and many appreciate its finer qualities, it is assigned reading. This makes it difficult to believe that large numbers of them will become independently interested in the author who penned the words so long ago and want to read her biography. Those who do develop that interest are likely to be disappointed by Shields’ book when they discover that Harper Lee ultimately has led a fairly dull life – which is how she seems to have wanted it. There is only so much that can be made of the process of writing one book and then retreating from the public eye. He relies too much on her relationship with the more dramatic Truman Capote, perhaps forgetting that Capote is somewhat passé for today’s young adult readers.

As a reader, I felt a bit sheepish as Lee obviously wishes to be left alone and is unlikely to be pleased to see bits of gossip from her friends and neighbors spun into not one, but two biographies. Shields has re-worked material from Mockingbird, a biography of Lee aimed at adult audiences. It seems to me that his missed his goal of creating an engaging story for younger readers.

Awards/Honors (source: http://us.macmillan.com/iamscout/CharlesShields):

  • 2009 American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults
  • Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year
  • Arizona Grand CanyonYoung Readers Master List
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