When Julie Sanders was a teenager, “To Kill a Mockingbird” changed her life.
Harper Lee’s 1960 novel about racism and a rape accusation in a small Southern town made her see the world differently, she said, and when she got a dog, she named it Scout, after the book’s young narrator.
That’s why negative reviews of “Go Set a Watchman,” the recently discovered sequel that was released Tuesday, troubled her.
The novel tells the story of a grown-up Scout, now going by her given name, Jean Louise, traveling home to Maycomb, Alabama, from college in New York. Her father Atticus, now 72, the revered lawyer in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” has become a bitter segregationist, and the town seems more small-minded and hateful than ever.
The portrait of an older, hardened Atticus was a common complaint among reviewers.
“I cried when I first heard that,” Sanders said. Nevertheless, clutching a copy of “Go Set a Watchman” on her way out of Octavia Books in Uptown New Orleans on Tuesday, Sanders said she planned to go straight home and start reading.
The novel was rejected by publishers in the mid-1950s, and Lee rewrote it, at an editor’s suggestion, from the point of view of the young Scout. The rewrite became “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Lee, now 89 and living in a nursing home in Alabama, had not published anything since.
Sales at Octavia were brisk, social media manager Veronica Brooks-Sigler said. One person was waiting in front of the store when it opened at 9 a.m., and patrons streamed in steadily as the morning went on.
Barnes & Noble in Metairie opened at 7 a.m. for the release, with half a dozen Lee fans clustered at the entrance, general manager Peter McNamara said. Steady sales were “right where we expected,” he said.
The store heralded the sequel by having volunteers read “To Kill a Mockingbird” aloud on Monday, a feat that took 12 hours, he said.
Because Lee famously insisted she would never publish another book, there were questions about the sudden appearance of the 60-year-old manuscript and whether Lee had been coerced into releasing it.
At Garden District Books in New Orleans, manager Amy Loewy said customers were not discouraged by controversy about the novel.
“I think they want to make their own decisions about whether Harper Lee wrote it and how the book goes,” she said as she rang up another copy.
Brooks-Sigler stayed up late Monday night reading “Watchman.” Like the characters who have grown up in “Watchman,” the new novel’s point of view is more realistic and adult, she said. But the moral compass is the same.
“In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ we saw things through a child’s eyes, in a particular period,” she said. But with time, “your relationships change. (Scout) has changed. Her family has changed.”
“I liked it,” she said. “It didn’t do the damage that people think it will do.
“It’s really about realizing that your heroes have faults.”