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This was John Grisham’s first novel, and also the first of his which I have read, although I have seen a number of films based on his works (including the adaptation of this book).

Carl Lee Hailey – a black man living in Clanton, Ford County, Mississippi – finds out that his daughter has been raped by two white men, and murders the rapists in revenge. He stands trial for murder and is represented by young lawyer Jake Brigance. The county is fiercely divided between those who think Carl Lee’s actions were justified and he should be acquitted, and those who think he should face capital punishment for what he did. The Ku Klux Klan are determined that Carl Lee must hang and embark on a campaign of harassment and intimidation. Soon the sleepy Ford County is divided into two sides, both willing to go to any lengths to win this war.

I can see why Grisham is such a popular writer – his story flows easily and this is one of those books where you pick it up with the intention of reading a few pages and hours later you’re still reading. I am unsure of my feelings regarding Jake – I was ‘on his side’ re Carl Lee, but his politics in general put me off him somewhat. I did however like the characters of Lucien Wilbanks – Jake’s mentor, an alcoholic but a smart man, and Harry Rex, another lawyer who helps Jake.

Some of the scenes were disturbing, especially those regarding the KKK, and there is prolific use of the n word, which I found extremely jarring. But the story itself was gripping, and I would definitely read more by John Grisham.

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This novel is told through the eyes of David Church, a young boy (the novel covers four years, from when he is 9 to when he is 13), living in Tennessee in the 1950s. David makes friends with a boy called Malcolm – but David is white and Malcolm is black, and it is a dangerous place and time for a white boy and a black boy to be friends. David’s father tells him that if Malcolm ever sets foot inside their house, he will shoot him.  His father expects David to obey him, but David finds himself questioning his father’s beliefs, and the events that he sees going on around him.

Set in a Southern state in the 1950s, and narrated by a child, comparisons with To Kill a Mockingbird are inevitable.  I personally don’t believe that this book is as good as TKAM (which is one of my all time favourite books) – but it is certainly a good read, aimed at younger readers.  Hopefully it would open up the subject for discussion.

As it is narrated by a child, a certain naivety is to be expected, and certain events are therefore somewhat simplified.  However, the book very ably portrays David’s distaste (and later disgust) with his father’s views.  The writing flows easily and the story moves on at a rapid pace, and I felt that the author did a good job of getting into the mindset of a young boy.

I did feel that Malcolm was not really explored as a person, although he is one of the main characters.  I would also like to have seen more of David’s Uncle Lucas, who does not share the father’s racist views; Lucas was one of the better fleshed out characters, despite being on the periphery of the story.  The one character who was most fully rounded was probably that of Franklin Church – David’s father.

The Ku Klux Klan also appear in the book, and indeed a couple of the scenes filled me with a genuine sense of unease.  There are a couple of genuinely upsetting parts of the story, which might be worth bearing in mind for younger readers.  Overall though, I would certainly recommend this book – as mentioned earlier, it’s aimed at young adults, but I think it’s a worthwhile read for adults of all ages.

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