Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
A Novel

58%

84 Critic Reviews

The temptation to publish another Lee novel was undoubtedly great, but it's a little like finding out there's no Santa Claus.
-Publishers Weekly

Synopsis

A historic literary event: the publication of a newly discovered novel, the earliest known work from Harper Lee, the beloved, bestselling author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Originally written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman was the novel Harper Lee first submitted to her publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird. Assumed to have been lost, the manuscript was discovered in late 2014.

Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her.

Exploring how the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are adjusting to the turbulent events transforming mid-1950s America, Go Set a Watchman casts a fascinating new light on Harper Lee’s enduring classic. Moving, funny and compelling, it stands as a magnificent novel in its own right.

 

About Harper Lee

See more books from this Author
Harper Lee was born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. She attended Huntington College and studied law at the University of Alabama. She has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Pulitzer Prize, and many other accolades.
 
Published July 14, 2015 by Harper. 19 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Education & Reference, Humor & Entertainment. Fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Aug 30 2015
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Critic reviews for Go Set a Watchman
All: 84 | Positive: 29 | Negative: 55

Kirkus

Above average
on Jul 15 2015

The long-awaited, much-discussed sequel that might have been a prequel—and that makes tolerably good company for its classic predecessor...It’s not To Kill a Mockingbird, yes, but it’s very much worth reading.

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Publishers Weekly

Below average
Reviewed by Louisa Ermelino on Jul 17 2015

The temptation to publish another Lee novel was undoubtedly great, but it's a little like finding out there's no Santa Claus.

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Publishers Weekly

Below average
Reviewed by Louisa Ermelino on Jul 17 2015

The temptation to publish another Lee novel was undoubtedly great, but it's a little like finding out there's no Santa Claus.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Randall Kennedy on Jul 14 2015

Though it does not represent Harper Lee’s best work, it does reveal more starkly the complexity of Atticus Finch, her most admired character. “Go Set a Watchman” demands that its readers abandon the immature sentimentality ingrained by middle school lessons about the nobility of the white savior...

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NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Jul 10 2015

The depiction of Atticus in “Watchman” makes for disturbing reading, and for “Mockingbird” fans, it’s especially disorienting.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Scoutingforbooks on Nov 21 2015

To conclude, Go Set a Watchman was an interesting read which gave much more meaning to the first of Harper Lee’s books but, obviously, it could have used some tweaking and maybe it should have, towards the end, taught us more...

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by CaraErica on Jul 24 2015

Too many people have been left disappointed to their own misimaginings of this book, but if you read it with an open mind (and try not to compare it too much to TKAM) I think you’ll be surprised. It was a wonderful story, filled with a range of ideologies and opinions that are great to sink your teeth into.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Robert McCrum on Jul 19 2015

Once the dust has settled, Watchman will be seen for what it is: a literary curiosity and a fascinating illustration of the mysterious pathways of the creative imagination.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Sarah Churchwell on Jul 17 2015

Watchman is nowhere near as good a novel as Mockingbird, but it might prove an equally significant one, if it helps us look to history for our lessons, rather than to our consoling, childish, whitewashed fables.

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Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Kiese LaymonSyreeta McFaddenSteven W ThrasherAlexander Chee on Jul 15 2015

In many ways I prefer Future Scout, who throws her cigarettes on the couch when she walks into her father’s house, tells her aunt to “pee in her hat” after being lectured on the unsuitability of Henry, tells Henry to “color the water” in her glass with his whiskey on their date.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Mark Lawson on Jul 13 2015

Regardless of whether the new book is regarded as Mockingbird 2 or Mockingbird 1.0, it is, in most respects, a new work, and a pleasure, revelation and genuine literary event, akin to the discovery of extra sections from T S Eliot’s The Waste Land or a missing act from Hamlet hinting that the prince may have killed his father.

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NPR

Below average
Reviewed by Maureen Corrigan on Jul 13 2015

All I know for certain is that Go Set a Watchman is kind of a mess that will forever change the way we read a masterpiece.

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Examiner

Good
Reviewed by John Valeri on Dec 28 2015

Ultimately, “Go Set a Watchman” is a raw but powerful novel that bravely tackles issues of race and injustice. While the book would likely have been lost to obscurity had its author not risen to prominence prior to its release, its timeless relevance can now be appreciated.

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Financial Times

Above average
Reviewed by John Sutherland on Jul 13 2015

As a work of literature, it is incontrovertibly imperfect, with a lumpy, lurching narrative. But one can regard the novel as necessary emetic medicine for her vast reading public.

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Globe and Mail

Below average
Reviewed by Lawrence Hill on Jul 14 2015

There is much to learn about the artistic and the editorial process in reading Go Set a Watchman...A novel about an adult who goes home and offers a number of flashbacks about her childhood is less dramatically immediate than a story that dives straight into the childhood itself.

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AV Club

Below average
Reviewed by Nathan Pensky on Jul 17 2015

Then again, any consideration of the novel’s quality seems insignificant in light of what the fact of it means—the death by inches of a great character, because someone decided to play fast and loose with an artist’s best intentions.

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The Economist

Below average
on Jul 18 2015

It has flashes of delight—the 14-page account of a ladies’ coffee morning is hilarious. But many of the characters are one-dimensional and they spout long speeches, chiefly about race, that feel clunky and undigested.

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Toronto Star

Below average
Reviewed by Heather Birrell on Jul 18 2015

While it is true that students of writing will value this text as an insight into Lee’s creative and editorial process, I think anyone who recognizes that fiction can help us make meaning of our lives will also see this imperfect companion novel as a fascinating glimpse into the messy processes by which we construct the self.

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Entertainment Weekly

Below average
Reviewed by Tina Jordan on Jul 14 2015

Look, I’m very aware of the fact that no reviewer is going to be able to stop the Watchman juggernaut. I just want people to understand two things: First, this is all about the money. And second, reading Watchman will forever tarnish your memories of one of the most beloved books in American literature.

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The Independent

Below average
Reviewed by Katy Guest on Jul 18 2015

It is let down by the lack of a thorough edit but worth reading all the same. Not as good as Mockingbird … but we knew that.

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The Independent

Above average
Reviewed by Arifa Akbar on Jul 13 2015

Whatever its failings, Go Set a Watchman can’t be dismissed as literary scraps from Lee’s’ imagination. It has too much integrity for that.

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The Telegraph

Below average
Reviewed by Gaby Wood on Jul 13 2015

Go Set a Watchman is, altogether, a more anxious book. Its heroine is more hysterical, and its register less confident – both prose and character operating as if they had something to prove.

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Huffington Post

Above average
Reviewed by Loretta Bolger on Sep 08 2015

Go Set a Watchman is at times clumsy, rambling and preachy. It’s the work of a gifted novice who later achieved fame because her manuscript Atticus received superb editing and a more resonant title. Nevertheless, Watchman has several points in its favor.

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Huffington Post

Below average
Reviewed by Jessica Denis on Jul 20 2015

My biggest fear is that this book will be shifted off to the wayside the way To Kill a Mockingbird was because it was profane and because of the prejudicial tones.

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Huffington Post

Above average
Reviewed by Maddie Crum on Jul 15 2015

For this reason, and many others, Go Set a Watchman is a shaky narrative and a flawed book. But it’s a much-needed context for the idealistic world of To Kill a Mockingbird, which would have readers believe that social change is as simple as passing and abiding by laws.

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Dallas News

Above average
Reviewed by JOYCE SÁENZ HARRIS on Jul 13 2015

The reality: This companion piece to Mockingbird, published Tuesday, will complicate Lee’s legacy in ways we never expected. Some readers will actively resent Lee’s revelations, while others will rejoice in her unsentimental realism.

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San Francisco Chronicle

Below average
Reviewed by Heller McAlpin on Jul 10 2015

Still, leaving aside questions about its twisting road to belated publication or its literary merits, there is plenty to intrigue readers in this companion volume to Harper Lee’s beloved classic.

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Open Letters Monthly

Above average
Reviewed by Nicki Leone on Aug 11 2015

It is interesting from a literary standpoint to think about how this book evolved into the one almost everyone agrees you should read at some point in your life. And I think the questions the story asks are worth asking...

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Express

Above average
Reviewed by Vanessa Berridge on Jul 17 2015

Go Set A Watchman is a powerful and moving novel, its force coming from the reader discovering, along with his daughter Scout, that Atticus is or appears to be a different man from the one in Lee’s first book.

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Denver Post

Good
Reviewed by Claire Martin on Jul 15 2015

...a deeply uncomfortable but brilliant book that ruthlessly examines race relations, and the speculation surrounding this long-unpublished novel.

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Tampa Bay Times

Below average
Reviewed by Colette Bancroft on Jul 14 2015

To me, what it looks like right now is a cynical money grab by Lee's handlers and her publisher. All it might cost them is the dimming of the reputation of a beloved author, the dismantling of an iconic American character and the breaking of a few million readers' hearts.

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The Columbus Dispatch

Below average
Reviewed by Nancy Gilson on Jul 13 2015

Go Set a Watchman is meaningful, troubling and considerably less accomplished than its predecessor. Mockingbird is the more elegant, relevant novel for the 21st century.

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We Love This Book

Above average
Reviewed by Anna James on Jul 14 2015

While the book is certainly less upbeat, and also somewhat messier in format, this does not detract from Lee's way with words, the humour, humanity and lovely turns of phrases are rippled through this book and there is so much to love...

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The National

Below average
Reviewed by Ben East on Jul 15 2015

Much of the time, it feels like Lee is scratching around for a story, compounded by an ending that seems to ask us to feel some sort of empathy for the bigotry...All of which makes this book an intriguing aside, rather than a comparable work of genius.

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Scotsman.com

Below average
Reviewed by Stuart Kelly on Jul 19 2015

It is a fascinating mixture of the jejune and the genius, of problems and promise...Were I the 1950s editor, I would probably not recommend publication, though I would be intrigued to see what Harper Lee does next.

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Journal Sentinel

Below average
Reviewed by Jim Higgins on Jul 16 2015

..."Watchman" is worth reading as a historical and literary artifact...Both morally and dramatically, the ending of "Watchman" leaves me unsatisfied. It's also a novel about racism in which black characters are almost never given a chance to speak.

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NY Daily News

Below average
Reviewed by Sherryl Connelly on Jul 13 2015

Such clichéd phrasing is a problem throughout “Watchman,” but Lee’s clumsy way with words is hardly disturbing compared to the discovery that Atticus is a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

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St. Louis Today

Below average
Reviewed by Jane Henderson on Feb 19 2016

Scout's homecoming in “Go Set a Watchman” won't kill "Mockingbird," but it does little to nurture its legacy, either.

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Post and Courier

Above average
Reviewed by Martha F. Barkley on Aug 10 2015

“Go Set a Watchman” is another gift from Lee, however harrowing a reality it was for her in her hometown.

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Library Journal

Good
Reviewed by BARBARA HOFFERT on Jul 16 2015

If Watchman is occasionally digressive or a bit much of a lecture, it’s good enough to make one wish that Lee had written a dozen works. It’s also a breathtaking read that will have the reader actively engaged...

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Irish Times

Below average
Reviewed by EILEEN BATTERSBY on Jul 14 2015

Stylistically she does not approach these writers and certainly not on the quality of the prose evident in Go Set a Watchman.

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Mail Online

Above average
Reviewed by JOANNE HARRIS on Jul 27 2015

And yet the mockingbird still sings — no longer a song of innocence, but maybe one of experience; a song that combines sorrow, forgiveness — and, ultimately, a kind of hope.

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Paste

Above average
Reviewed by Frannie Jackson on Jul 16 2015

Where Mockingbird boasts idealism and redemption, Watchman highlights reality. Maybe we’re due to grow up alongside little Scout Finch.

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The Atlantic

Above average
Reviewed by SOPHIE GILBERT on Jul 17 2015

It would be hard to find a starker contrast to the broad-minded optimism of Mockingbird than that message, which leaves a reader wondering about just where this unearthed novel really stands in Harper Lee’s career.

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Stuff

Below average
Reviewed by ANNA ROGERS on Aug 13 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird is a great book; Go Set a Watchman is not. Its publication diminishes and compromises a fine writer. Honour Harper Lee by rereading the great book; don't bother with the poor one.

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The Hindu

Above average
Reviewed by S. B VIJAYA MARY on Aug 09 2015

Its tag of ‘Academic curiosity’ notwithstanding, Go Set a Watchman tells the tale of a young woman who successfully delves not just into her conscience, but of the reader, albeit the hard way. Worth a read.

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The Hindu

Above average
Reviewed by SWATI DAFTUAR on Aug 07 2015

While to Lee’s fans these developments might spell disappointment, they are also perhaps Go Set a Watchman’sgreatest strength.

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Scholars And Rogues

Below average
Reviewed by Jim Booth on Aug 02 2015

Such moments show that sense of delicate insight that pervades To Kill a Mockingbird. There aren’t enough of these, however, to offset the issues that make Go Set a Watchman a book that is, sadly, too much of its time to be anything more than a historical document.

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TODAY'S ZAMAN

Good
Reviewed by STEPHEN CARTER on Jul 19 2015

We want our heroes and villains simple...In “Go Set a Watchman,” Harper Lee invites us instead to be adult enough to accept that nobody is all one thing.

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Red State

Above average
Reviewed by Joe Cunningham on Jul 15 2015

Whatever you read about the book, don’t reject it outright. I highly encourage you to read it because it is very much in the style of Harper Lee, and it is very much a story that you can learn a lot from.

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OpEdNews

Good
Reviewed by Tsara Shelton on Aug 20 2015

I recommend both books, Go Set a Watchman and To Kill a Mockingbird, in any order. The author, Harper Lee, is a woman both before and completely of her time.

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The Copperfield Review

Good
Reviewed by Charlie Britten on Nov 03 2015

Those who have screamed ‘Atticus is a racist’ all over Facebook have failed to scratch beneath the surface of Watchman or to appreciate that, although Lee has described the mindset of Maycomb in the 1950s, and explained its rationale, she has neither condoned it nor apologised for it.

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Prospect

Above average
Reviewed by Diane Roberts on Aug 11 2015

So should we shun this lesser, this limited, Atticus Finch of Watchman, holding onto his more heroic, later-draft self? On the contrary. Lee’s rough draft brings us closer to the reality of 21st-century America than the hopeful lessons of To Kill a Mockingbird.

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The Advocate

Above average
Reviewed by GEORGE MORRIS on Jul 21 2015

...more realistic...Realism, however, can be overrated. It’s not as good a story. That is what a publisher thought six decades ago, and we should be thankful. Had “Go Set a Watchman” been published, “To Kill a Mockingbird” would never have been. Reading the former will help you appreciate the latter even more. If that’s possible.

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http://www.rte.ie

Above average
on Jul 14 2015

That book still lives and will continue to enchant. This new work will be of value to fans of that book and academics alike. Given the lack of material Harper Lee has published, it’s probably for this best that this was released, as long as the reader is clear on what to expect.

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Teen Ink

Above average
Reviewed by L.J.Barnes on Sep 08 2015

While there are many messages one can glean from Harper Lee’s new novel, which is sprinkled with flashbacks to Jean Louise’s childhood, anecdotes that many readers have come to love. “Watchman” is about growing up and the realization that things change.

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http://caffeinatedbookreviewer.com

Above average
Reviewed by Kimberly on Aug 06 2015

I am pleased that I was able to read Go Set a Watchman the manuscript that eventually gave birth to my beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. I would not classify this as a novel but its beautifully written and a wonderful peek into the making of To Kill A Mockingbird.

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Quick Book Reviews

Good
Reviewed by David Ben Efraim on Jul 15 2015

All in all, Go Set a Watchman is extremely-well written and seriously doesn't lack in food for thought...Though it does smash about the idyllic view of the world that the first novel left us with, it presents in its place something a lot more realistic and relatable.

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Before It's News

Above average
Reviewed by Sue Jackson on Oct 15 2015

Although this is a novel about a young woman growing up, becoming independent, and learning to separate from her father, it is also a novel about a specific time and place in history. As such, it describes the great changes coming to our nation...

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Men Reading Books

Below average
Reviewed by Midwest Dave on Aug 28 2015

This is no To Kill a Mockingbird. In fact Harper Lee wrote it before To Kill a Mockingbird and thought it not worthy of being published. She was right. Apparently someone very close to the now 89 year old Harper Lee needed some cash and knew something about marketing. What a scam.

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https://www.bostonglobe.com

Good
Reviewed by JONI RODGERS on Jul 15 2015

As an editor, I want to go back in time, embrace this young author, and tell her: “This is a wonderful book. And you must write another one and another and another, and every one of them should say exactly what you want to say.”

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Parental Book Reviews

Below average
Reviewed by Megan Carpenter on Sep 17 2015

Bottom line – Lee’s story is nothing more than a rough draft of a novel never meant to be published.

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She Knows

Good
Reviewed by Deirdre Kaye on Jul 14 2015

Atticus changed. Like Scout. Like Maycomb. Like the world around us. Not by accident, but with deliberation. Atticus changed. And it makes perfect sense.

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Booking in Heels

Above average
Reviewed by Hanna W on Aug 25 2015

To clarify, I'm happy with the book overall and I'm really happy that we got a chance to read it. I just wish that the ending had been a little more thought-out and I didn't disagree with the message so desperately.

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https://lareviewofbooks.org

Above average
Reviewed by Anne Richardson on Aug 14 2015

...while we can mourn that such a gifted writer did not produce another fully realized novel, we should honor that choice, and not try to evaluate Watchman as the sequel it is not.

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https://bookmunch.wordpress.com

Above average
on Jun 16 2016

Did I enjoy it as much as To Kill a Mockingbird? No. Am I glad I read it and glad it exists? Yes. Is it interesting, does it complicate To Kill a Mockingbird? Yes and yes.

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http://flavorwire.com

Above average
Reviewed by Jonathon Sturgeon on Jul 15 2015

...it’s all chasing after vapor, as a citizen of Maycomb might say. Once this is understood, Watchman becomes a straightforward book.

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It's Time to Read

Above average
Reviewed by Katie on Jun 08 2015

...I liked the memories, which meant Jem could re-enter the story. I also like the banter between Jean Louise and Hank. But it wasn’t an easy read, and some of it was really dull. This book isn’t as good as To Kill A Mockingbird, which is a novel I just love. I have come away from this book disappointed.

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The Bowed Bookshelf

Good
Reviewed by Trish on Sep 07 2015

Don’t let any reviews discourage you from enjoying this novel for yourselves. It is a wonderful, spicy, clear-eyed view of the South with all its peculiarities. A better defense of color-blindness I have not heard.

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Rivers I Have Known

Below average
Reviewed by Amritorupa Kanjilal on Jul 31 2015

I spent much of the last two decades wishing Harper Lee had not “died” without writing another book, that I could read some more about Jem, Scout, and Dill. Since July 16, I have been wishing the lady actually had died with just one beautiul, perfect novel to her name.

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Chicago Center For Literature And Photography

Good
Reviewed by Jason Pettus on Aug 04 2015

When entered into with the right attitude and a good sense of history, this is a worthy companion to the admittedly better Mockingbird, a book that sheds additional light on those characters and doesn't necessarily have to be seen as standing in direct conflict with them. I encourage you to approach it yourself with this attitude in mind.

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January Magazine

Above average
Reviewed by J. Kingston Pierce on Aug 05 2015

Read Go Set a Watchman for yourself. If you appreciate it as Harper Lee’s initial experience in novel-writing, that’s great — I think you should. If you don’t, well, that’s the risk you always take with a new book.

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http://www.dailyuw.com

Good
Reviewed by Katie Anastas on Jan 20 2016

“Go Set a Watchman” enhances the reader’s understanding of the characters and conflicts explored in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” while also succeeding as a powerful stand-alone novel.

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https://www.foreignaffairs.com

Above average
Reviewed by WALTER RUSSELL MEAD on Nov 01 2015

William Faulkner and Ralph Ellison wrote more profoundly than Lee about race in America, and Flannery O’Connor had a sharper eye for the South. Still, the grace and sincerity of Lee’s fiction have helped sharpen the consciences of millions of readers; many writers have published far more to far less effect.

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http://socialistreview.org.uk

Above average
Reviewed by Kate Hurford on Nov 01 2015

Reading To Kill a Mockingbird first means sharing in Jean Louise’s anger, shame and disappointment in her father, Atticus. Although disappointing, Atticus’s racism is not unrealistic and Harper Lee does a good job of displaying contradictory consciousness.

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Book Loving Mommy

Above average
Reviewed by Book Loving Mommy on Mar 14 2016

This book took me much longer to read than TKAM because it didn't capture my interest like TKAM. It wasn't what I was expecting it to be but I was glad to see Atticus taken down a notch and made human.

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RabbitReader

Below average
Reviewed by Chiron on Sep 19 2015

The novel left me with more questions than I could handle. Did Harper Lee sugarcoat Atticus...I am not going to quote from Harper Lee’s first novel, Go Set a Watchman. I think anyone who loves Atticus, Scout, and Jem, who hates racism can decide whether or not to go down this path.

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http://time.com

Below average
Reviewed by Daniel D’Addario on Jul 11 2015

Watchman is more successful as an amplification of characters it shares with Mockingbird, where they are better-developed. Watchman is both a painful complication of Harper Lee’s beloved book and a confirmation that a novel read widely by schoolchildren is far more bitter than sweet.

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http://www.publiusonline.com

Above average
Reviewed by Daniel Burton on Aug 05 2015

Judge for yourself. Pick up Go Set a Watchman, read it and consider if it isn’t more about the complexities of human relationships, of memory and of the passage of time than about racism and justice. It may not be the book that I wanted or expected, but I wonder if perhaps the judgments levied are perhaps too simplistic.

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A Fangirl's View

Above average
Reviewed by fantasylover12001 on Jan 18 2016

Honestly, I think what one thinks about this book, will probably just come down to the individual. WHO SHOULD READ: To Kill a Mockingbird fans (who don't idealize the book)

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Schleicher Spin

Good
Reviewed by David H. Schleicher on Aug 18 2015

Were we to always visit with Scout at pivotal points in her life – childhood, young adulthood – maybe middle-age and old-age? We might never know, which makes this rare re-visit all the more rewarding and worth treasuring, like Atticus, warts and all.

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https://rippleeffects.wordpress.com

Below average
on Aug 05 2015

Only when comparing the two books as a ‘Before and After’ transformation can we see how the writing process had taken place. By reading Watchman as a first draft, we come to appreciate how a seasoned editor had helped a novice and an aspiring writer...

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https://rationaloptimist.wordpress.com

Below average
on Dec 15 2015

Its set-piece racist ranting, and Jean Louise’s set-piece reactions thereto, seemed canned and didactic – violating (unlike Mockingbird) the cardinal writing rule, don’t tell, show.

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https://time.com

Above average
Reviewed by Daniel D’Addario on Jul 11 2015

It’s only by striving to see him with the eyes of an adult that she can come to understand what she stands for. Painful though it may be, that’s the reader’s task too.

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Richie Gallagher 2 Sep 2015

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