The kids in Paul Acampora’s I Kill the Mockingbird are the kids that the seventh grade me wished desperately to know. Lucy, Elena and Michael are best friends who also happen to be book nerds. One summer they come up with a plan of “literary terrorism” to get people interested in one of their summer reading books, To Kill the Mockingbird. What starts out as a local campaign spreads nationwide with the help of the Internet and they end up having to figure out how to kill their own creation.
The friends’ plan is about getting people to read great books on the surface but really it’s just as much about helping Lucy deal with her mother’s cancer and grieving the loss of a beloved teacher, Fat Bob, and figuring out how to have one last crazy summer before going off to high school. In the same way, I Kill the Mockingbird is about kids who love books but also about young teens who still have one foot in the camp of childhood but are aware that they are growing up. Like the classic that it pays homage to, it’s really a coming of age novel.
There is so much to like here. Any weakness comes from the need to suspend belief a bit to believe that there are still small towns and communities like the one portrayed here. The kids are all self-confident book lovers who don’t seem to worry at all about things like being cool or fitting in. The parents are all understanding and cool. The town is safe enough that the kids can wander wherever they want on their own, unencumbered by parental oversight, yet wordly enough that it supports an independent bookstore and is close enough by public transportation to many other small towns. There are no real negative repercussions from their campaign. Maybe that’s all nit-picky but it did read as a little idealistic to me. Still, I decided early on to just go with it and enjoy the book, idealism and all.
One thing Acampora does well is to include a religious life for the kids. They all attend a Catholic school, where Lucy’s father is principal. Catholicism is woven through the book along with discussions of faith and mortality and why bad things happen. It’s exceedingly rare to find an adult book that treats religious life as something ordinary. It’s seems that religion is usually either dealt with in a heavy-handed overtly Christian way or it’s dismissed outright. I think it’s even more rare to find a book for middle-grade kids that handles religion in this straight-forward way.
I would definitely recommend this for anyone (kid or adult) who loves books.