Classics / Literary Fiction

10 Critical Books Like To Kill a Mockingbird

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Although there are those who question its relevance and appropriateness in the modern classroom, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird remains a beloved classic. The story of Tom Robinson, a Black man falsely accused of sexual assault in a small Southern town in the 1930s, impacts the world of young Scout Finch. Her father, Atticus, agrees to represent Tom despite the cancerous racism of his neighbors. What makes the novel so powerful is Lee’s deft use of Scout’s point-of-view. It’s one of the most skillful depictions of growing up ever set to paper. Scout’s budding awareness of evil complicates her view of the world, and her journey is glorious. If you’re hoping to have a similar experience with a different story, here are 10 books like To Kill a Mockingbird.

1. Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee

If you want a deeper dive into Maycomb, Alabama, your first stop should be Lee’s second novel Go Set a Watchman. Essentially an unpublished early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird (the books even share a few identical passages), the story is told from the perspective of an adult Scout looking back on the events that shaped her and her relationship with her father. It’s a grimmer and less hopeful version of the story that amplifies the themes of growing up and disillusionment. It also provides a fascinating glimpse into Lee’s creative process, and the ideal novel to pair with her classic.

2. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Stockett’s novel is old-fashioned in many ways. Like Lee’s novel, The Help is centered on a young white woman’s slow awakening to injustice and racism. Like Scout, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is warm-hearted and naive, and her slow realization that her family and friends are racist is both sad and inspiring. Set in a small Southern town in the 1960s, the story explicitly echoes To Kill a Mockingbird but imagines what might have happened if Scout Finch had been a college-educated adult instead of a small child. If you’re looking for an unofficial sequel to Lee’s Nobel Prize-winning book, this will do nicely.

3. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers

Set in small-town Georgia during the Great Depression, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter predates To Kill a Mockingbird by 20 years but captures many of the same literary flavors. The story begins with a focus on two deaf-mute men, John and Spiros, roommates who rely on each other. After Spiros suffers a breakdown and is committed to an institution, John must find his way alone. As he does so, the story expands to include other citizens of the town, each with their own story. It’s a deeply emotional book that takes an unflinching look at rural Southern life, including the pervasive racism and poverty. With its broader focus, it provides a near-perfect counterpoint to Lee’s more intimate narrative.

4. Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan

Jordan’s debut novel is wider in scope than To Kill a Mockingbird. Mudbound starts in the 1940s and explores two decades in the shared lives of the McAllan and Jackson families in rural Mississippi. Henry McAllan drags his reluctant family from the urban lifestyle they know in order to become a farmer. The neighboring Jacksons have been sharecroppers for generations, but Hap and Florence have ambitions to own their own land. Through the lens of these two families—especially the unlikely friendship between war-veteran sons Jamie and Ronsel—Jordan explores life in the racist, Jim Crow South in ways that echo and complement Lee’s work.

5. The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd

Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees is set in 1964 South Carolina, and like To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s tied to the experience of a goodhearted young white girl. Lily is 14 and was raised in large part by Rosaleen, a Black woman with a fierce streak of courage. When Rosaleen upsets some racist elements in their town, she takes Lily with her to a small rural town where they are taken in by three sisters who teach Lily beekeeping. Nurtured and protected by these women, Lily’s story is a coming-of-age tale steeped in feminine power and wisdom. It offers a beautifully different perspective from Lee’s book despite using many similar ingredients.

6. Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson

The themes of racial tension and the shocking unfairness of our judicial system found in To Kill a Mockingbird are depressingly echoed in Stevenson’s memoir Just Mercy. Stevenson, a Harvard-educated lawyer, tells the story of his quest for justice for Walter McMillian, a Black man sentenced to death for the murder of a white woman named Ronda Morrison. This real-life example of injustice and racism is a reminder that the themes and issues Lee explored in her 1960 novel remain sadly relevant to our modern existence. But Stevenson’s clear-eyed devotion to making the world a better place is as powerful as Scout’s unwavering faith in her father. Both will leave you hopeful for the future.

7. Bastard Out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison

Allison’s semi-autobiographical novel is a story of sexual abuse, violence, and the impact of generational poverty. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, Bastard Out of Carolina is told from the point of view of a smart, fascinating young girl named Ruth Anne Boatwright, known as Bone. Bone’s mother Anney was unconscious during her birth, unable to lie about being married. As a result, Bone is officially a “bastard.” Anney eventually marries Glen, an angry man who begins to abuse Bone both sexually and physically. It’s dark, but ultimately hopeful, and offers a different perspective on what it was like being a young girl in the Jim Crow South.

8. Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns

Burns’s 1984 novel is set in the fictional town of Cold Sassy, Georgia in 1906. The story begins with a scandal as Enoch Rucker Blakeslee becomes engaged to the much younger Miss Love Simpson just three weeks after the death of his wife. His grandson, Will, narrates the story as the scandal ripples through his life and the town. Cold Sassy Tree is both lighter in tone than To Kill a Mockingbird and a deeper dive into its setting—the town is as much a character as Will. Exploring the full tapestry of Southern life at the time, including racism, poverty, and the insular nature of small towns, it’s an excellent counterpoint to Lee’s narrative.

9. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is set in the Northeast instead of the South, and it isn’t focused on racial justice and injustice. But its themes of community, family, and poverty will resonate with anyone who loves To Kill a Mockingbird. As will the voice of its young protagonist, Francie. A little older than Scout Finch, Francie’s struggle to achieve her dream of an education and breaking free from the tenement apartments of her childhood rub up against harsh reality. Hampered by her alcoholic father’s inability to support the family, Francie’s hopes dim—but never completely vanish. Like Lee’s book, this is a beautiful, warts-and-all portrait of a time and place.

10. Necessary Lies, by Diane Chamberlain

Set in North Carolina in 1960, Necessary Lies tells the stories of Jane Forrester, a young, idealistic social worker, and Ivy Hart, a 15-year-old tenant farmer struggling to hold her family together. After Ivy’s father is killed in an accident, she’s left to care for her aging grandmother and mentally ill sister, Mary Ella. When Jane takes an interest in the Harts’ plight, she finds herself embroiled in one of the most controversial and horrifying episodes in American history—the state-sanctioned sterilization of men and women deemed unfit to have children. This sharp examination of poverty and injustice is beautifully written, and Ivy often evokes a Scout Finch who grew up without the benefit of affluence and a father like Atticus.

About Author

Jeff Somers ( was born in Jersey City, New Jersey and regrets nothing. He is the author of nine novels, a book on the craft of writing, and numerous short stories. His guitar playing is a plague upon his household and his lovely wife The Duchess is convinced he would die if left to his own devices.

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