As a Pulitzer Prize-winning and historic work of literature, To Kill a Mockingbird has been included on many all-time best-seller lists (including mine). As a child growing up in the Jim Crow South, Scout tells the story of her father, Atticus, who bravely defends a black man who was falsely accused of murder in a racist courtroom. It’s likely that even if you’ve never read it, you’ve heard the plot (or have seen the Award-winning movie with Gregory Peck). These 12 books like To Kill a Mockingbird will transport you back to a time, place, and feeling similar to this incredible and iconic piece of American literature, even if you’ve never read it before.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Francie Nolan, a young woman growing up in poverty in Brooklyn in 1910, is the focus of this classic American coming-of-age tale. Her family is struggling to make ends meet because her father is an alcoholic and they live in substandard conditions. A bookworm who has access to the free public library, Francie (whose grandmother believes she is destined for greatness) is sensitive and curious about the world of words. Despite its depressing tone, this poignant tale will strike a chord with anyone who has struggled to find meaning and purpose in the midst of adversity.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
To find a better life in This Tender Land, four orphans flee a rural Minnesota boys home during the Great Depression. Adventure and interesting characters abound as they flee their ruthless pursuers on a perilous journey of self-discovery and personal growth. People we meet along the way can help us become who we want and need to be. This epic story features everyone from farmers to faith healers to displaced families as a result of the current economic crisis.
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
This is Peekay’s story, as she grows up in apartheid-era South Africa. While growing up in a white all-boys boarding school, he was subjected to violence and learned that he had to be a voice for hope and love in a world that was rapidly changing. Peekay’s story shows us how a single person can make a huge difference in a world that is rife with racism and discrimination.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
When Woodson was a young African American girl in the 1960s and ’70s, she wrote this middle-grade novel, which is entirely in verse, about her experiences as an African American girl. The Civil Rights movement and Jim Crow laws still linger, and she struggles to find her way as she grows up in different parts of the United States (Northern and Southern). With the innocence and honesty of a child, Woodson’s emotional prose captures the turbulence of the times from these disparate geographic perspectives while also discovering her passion for writing.
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
In Furious Hours, a rural reverend accused of murdering five of his family members in the 1970s is shot dead at the funeral of his final victim, who was murdered for insurance money. Despite the fact that there were numerous eyewitnesses, the murderer is found not guilty thanks to the same savvy lawyer who previously helped the reverend elude justice. Harper Lee, of course, was in the audience during the vigilante’s trial. Lee hoped to write a true crime book like the one she’d helped Truman Capote on years earlier: In Cold Blood. These notes, as well as accounts of dramatic courtroom events and depictions of racial tensions in the period depicted in this book, chronicle Lee’s yearlong investigation into the bizarre case.
Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain
Ivy Hartis, a 15-year-old orphan who grew up in poverty on a tobacco farm in the South, is struggling to support her family and make ends meet. When Jane Forrester, a local social worker, is enlisted to assist, the farm’s dark secrets are soon revealed. Jane finds herself deeply involved in helping the Hartis family during the final years of Jim Crow North Carolina, when mandated sterilization laws were still in place and racial tension was thick in the air, and she faces the consequences sometimes associated with doing what is right.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
As a “book woman” for the Library Pack Horse Project, Cussy Mary Carter rode her mule across the rugged mountains of Eastern Kentucky in the 1930s. Cussy has methemoglobinemia, a medical condition that causes her skin to turn blue, and as a result, she is labeled “a colored person” by the law and must deal with all the prejudice and mistreatment that term entails. Cussy is a lifeline to her mountain patrons, providing them with vital information and a sense of hope. Caught in the middle of the struggle and racism of Troublesome Creek, Cussy finds hope and love amidst the hardships and oppression of the mountains beyond.
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
An Irish girl named Lavinia is taken in as an orphan by a large tobacco plantation in the Deep South during the twilight of slavery. Lavinia is torn between two worlds as she joins the plantation as one of the slaves (really more of an indentured servant) but is made an outcast because of her light skin. Bell, the owner’s daughter who was adopted by Belle and her adopted family are all she has to look forward to in her new life. After moving into the big house, she’s faced with a series of decisions about her loyalty and devotion to the only family she has ever had to contend with.
If You Want to Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais
It tells the story of three women in post-apartheid South Africa, surrounded by racial tensions, the AIDS epidemic, and the looming civil war, all of which threaten their lives. The women all come from different backgrounds, but their stories become intertwined when two of them receive a newborn baby as a gift. Emotional and heartfelt tales of racial prejudice, misunderstood sexual orientations, and the healing power of motherly love, second chances, and second chances follow.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Lily was just 14 years old when she grew up on a peach farm in the South in the 1960s without a mother to look after her. Rosaleen, a strong African American woman who has helped raise her, eventually forces her to flee to a small South Carolina town. Beekeeping sisters who take Lily under their wing provide Lily with a safe haven and nurturing mother figures who have a personal connection to her past. This is a dramatic and emotional story set against the backdrop of the deep South’s civil rights movement as a coming-of-age tale with strong messages about motherhood and religion.