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Generations of teenagers assigned to read the classic coming-of-age book “To Kill A Mockingbird’’ have developed fierce attachments to the book’s narrator, Scout Finch, whose childhood unfolds amid deep racial prejudice in fictional Maycomb, Ala.

Now, with this week’s announcement that Harper Lee will publish a second novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” about the same characters, in the same Alabama town, the English teachers who are the caretakers of Lee’s legacy are giddy about the prospect of new material on Scout and the rest of the 55-year-old novel.

“Personally, I’m thrilled because I can’t think of another novel that has such incredible emotional staying power,” said Lynn Burke, an English teacher at Boston Latin School who hopes to teach the book to next year’s seniors. “I can already see myself building lesson plans around it.”


“Mockingbird” consistently ranks as one of Americans’ favorite books, only a few places behind the Bible. Laura Bush and Oprah Winfrey have lauded its national importance, and even Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski mentioned the book on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” this week, calling it “A Mocking to Remember, or whatever” — he couldn’t quite remember the title.

One of Burke’s students, senior Brian Zick, recalls “To Kill a Mockingbird” as the only required reading he loved in seventh grade. On a Skype call with friends this week, news of Lee’s second novel came up. They all were ecstatic.

Zick said he didn’t mind that Scout will be 20 years older in the new book.

“When she was a child, she was relatively innocent and not as well-versed in the politics of the times and societal expectations of the times,” he said. “Being a more experienced adult, I think she could definitely provide some insights into a story that we all know so well.”

Daniel Sigward, who designed a curriculum for teaching Lee’s first novel for Facing History and Ourselves, an educational nonprofit in Brookline, is also intrigued to see what Lee’s second book reveals about her first.


“It just has to lend some insight into the way ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ came together, even if it’s not a major work,” said Sigward, managing editor of content and innovation at the organization.

Since publication of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1960, Harper Lee, shown in an undated photo from a visit to her hometown of Monroeville, Ala., has avoided the public eye.
Since publication of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1960, Harper Lee, shown in an undated photo from a visit to her hometown of Monroeville, Ala., has avoided the public eye.Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image/Getty Image

He added, “even if the new book isn’t a classic of literature, it will be really interesting to see how their lives turned out.”

“Go Set a Watchman” will be released July 14. But from pre-orders, it shot to Amazon’s No. 1 spot within a day after the announcement. “To Kill a Mockingbird” leapt to second place.

Readers are insatiably curious to know more about the people and the place in “Mockingbird,” as if Scout, Jem, and Atticus continued living once the novel ended.

Ajani Martin-Abascal, a ninth-grader at Medford High School, read “Mockingbird” last year, and has been wondering ever since she finished what happened when Scout grew up, especially whether she become a lawyer, like Atticus?

“I felt like she could because she was so curious and determined,” she said.

Martin-Abascal is eager to read Lee’s second novel, to find out. “I’m curious about how she wrangled her life now that she’s out of that small town she grew up in,” she said. “And if she’s changed a lot or not as much.”

Lee’s first published book tells the story, from Scout’s point of view, of Atticus representing a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.


The publisher, HarperCollins, says the new book is set 20 years after “Mockingbird,” when Scout returns to Maycomb from New York to visit her father. One major difference is that “Go Set a Watchman,” written in the third person, isn’t told in Scout’s wry, indignant voice.

“Everybody feels like they own a little bit of it,” said Jennifer Hogue, who teaches the novel to ninth-graders at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge. “Somehow, it manages not to get ruined by getting taught by an English teacher.”

Hogue is curious about the new book and plans to read it this summer, looking for passages that could add depth to her students’ reading of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Whether readers like the new novel may depend on what they’re hoping to find. “Go Set a Watchman” was Lee’s early draft, the one sent back by her agent for reworking. The best parts, the agent believed, were the flashbacks that formed the basis for “Mockingbird.”

But that doesn’t mean the new book isn’t important.

“Anything by Harper Lee — or Flannery O’Connor, or Eudora Welty — would be of much interest regardless of its literary quality,” author Joyce Carol Oates, who teaches creative writing at Princeton, tweeted this week.

“To Kill A Mockingbird,” often taught between seventh and ninth grades, resembles the coming-of-age novel by another author who led a reclusive life, J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.”


“Those are books that people read in their formative years,” Sigward said. “And they really, really stick with them, and read them over and over again. A lot of people are really invested in the story and the characters.”

In “Mockingbird,” Tom Robinson, the black man, is convicted, and later tries to escape from prison by climbing the fence. Prison guards shoot him in the back, killing him. Months later, Scout reports, “Maycomb was itself again.”

But Sigward, whose group sometimes leads discussions on how communities feel after traumatic events, thinks: Was it? Maybe, he said, the new novel will give more information about what happened.

“You can’t help but wonder, ‘Who does she mean by Maycomb? Did it go back to normal for everyone?’ It would be interesting to see if we can glean anything.”

Everybody who loves “Mockingbird,” it seems, has hopes for what Lee’s new book will reveal: Did Scout stay empathetic? What happened to the town? What about Boo Radley?

For that, readers will have to wait until July.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at kathleen.burge@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @KathleenBurge.