MONROEVILLE, Ala. (AP) – Judy May and her sister Julia Stroud drove back to their hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, and snatched up the first two copies as Harper Lee’s new novel “Go Set a Watchman” as the book went on sale at midnight.
“I’m so excited, I’m shaking,” May, 51, said as she walked outside of the bookstore with her hardback treasure.
Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, the model for the fictional Maycomb in both books, buzzed with excitement for the Tuesday celebration of the sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
A crowd of more than 200 waited in humid summer weather for the book to go on sale at midnight at Monroeville’s Ol’ Curiosities & Book Shoppe.
An Atticus Finch impersonator, with glasses and a briefcase, entertained the crowd, a few of whom came dressed as characters from the book.
The town has a full day of celebrations including readings, walking tours and a mint julep cocktail hour outside the old courthouse.
But at the same time, there was trepidation, and disbelief, that Atticus Finch, the courtly model of integrity who in the 1930s defended a wrongly accused black man in “Mockingbird,” is portrayed as a racist 20 years later in “Watchman.”
“I’m nervous. I’m reserving opinion, but I’m ready to be mad. He’s the epitome of the moral compass,” said Cher Caldwell, a 43-year-old English teacher from Kentucky.
May said she’s tried to stay away from spoilers, but said she too is concerned about a different Atticus.
“Atticus has been a hero-type person through our lives here in Monroe County and the whole world actually. It would be pretty disappointing,” May said.
“But at the same time, you have to kind of remind yourself he was human at the time he was raised.”
The new book was written years before “Mockingbird,” and contains seeds of the story that eventually became a classic staple of literature.
The new novel traces character Scout Finch’s return home to the fictional town of Maycomb in the 1950s.
Jan Anderson, 48, said she wants to see what became of the characters that she fell in love when she read “Mockingbird” in high school, saying she always imagined that the opinioned Scout Finch became a lawyer or some sort of crusader for justice.
“I’m going to have it read in a couple of hours,” Anderson said.
The book shop, located near the courthouse square in Monroeville, ordered more than 10,000 copies of “Watchman” in a town with a population of less than 6,300.
“I think a lot of people are really wanting to wait and read the whole book for themselves,” bookstore owner Spencer Madrie said.
Lee, 89, is expected to spend Tuesday at the assisted living facility where she lives in Monroeville.