Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman hit shelves yesterday, and everyone has an opinion about it. It’s been the hottest book of the summer since way back in February. As for me, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy because I knew that it would bring me back to Maycomb, Alabama, a place I spent a lot of my younger years in, and reintroduce me to an old friend: the incomparable Jean Louise “Scout” Finch.

While I was in fifth grade, my local theater decided to put on a stage production of To Kill a Mockingbird. Up until that point, I wasn’t familiar with the book. But I wanted to be in any and every show I could be in, so I read it and fell in love. I showed up at the audition in dusty overalls, with my hair in two low braids. I already saw myself as Scout Finch, and I needed the directors to see it too. When they called to offer me the part, I had no idea of knowing the impact the role would have on me.

In the months that followed, I watched the small town of Maycomb being built around me and built relationships with my stage family. By the time of the show, I felt more like Scout than myself. When it ended, I was moving up to middle school. Make-up and bras were on the verge of being more than something I stole from my sister’s room. And at the time, I was struggling with how to balance both. How did I keep my tomboyish side while exploring the part of me who liked dresses? I was ready to grow up, but not ready to give up my younger stage of my life either. Scout Finch helped me find my balance.

I reread To Kill a Mockingbird every year until I was 15. I identified with Scout too much to let her go. She taught me it was OK to be myself. My favorite part of playing Scout was her refusal to change. At times, she was too stubborn, but in other ways, she used her headstrong will for the right reasons. She didn’t care how a lady should be. She cared about how she wanted to be. She knew she couldn’t continue climbing trees in a dress so why would she wear one? Refusing to sacrifice her lifestyle for the one her Aunt Alexandra wanted for her showed my 11-year-old self it would be okay if sometimes I kept on my beaten up tennis shoes to run in after school.

Identifying with Scout how and when I did helped me transition into the years of puberty with a strong connection to who I was. Scout’s fearlessness, and her refusal to be anyone but herself, is a powerful lesson. So though I’m eager to read about the more grown-up Scout in Go Set a Watchman, I’m also reluctant to let go of the version of her that I first met as an elementary schooler. That Scout, the one who climbs trees in her dirty overalls, will always have a place in my heart.


[Image courtesy Universal Pictures]