Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction

Help select the winner of the 2017 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction

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Poll: Which book should win the 2017 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction?
  • 82.24%
    "Small Great Things," by Jodi Picoult
  • 13.54%
    "Gone Again," by James Grippando
  • 4.22%
    "The Last Days of Night," by Graham Moore

The finalists have been chosen for the seventh annual Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, and now is your time to weigh in on which book should win.

The prize was authorized by the late Harper Lee, and established in 2011 by the University of Alabama School of Law and the ABA Journal to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. It is given annually to a book-length work of fiction that best illuminates the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change.

A selection committee of ABA Journal and University of Alabama School of Law representatives have chosen three books from more than two dozen entries as finalists for the prize. They are Gone Again, by James Grippando; The Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore; and Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult.

“The ABA Journal is honored to be a continuing part of the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction,” says Molly McDonough, the editor and publisher of the ABA Journal. “We’re particularly excited about the diversity of topics in this year’s finalists: a compelling narrative on race in America, a riveting piece of historical fiction on the lawyering behind the electrification of America, and a gripping legal thriller with a race against the death penalty at the center of the story.”

A four-person panel will vote on which novel should take the prize, with the result of the public poll counting as a fifth vote. The poll will remain open through June 30. The judges on the panel are Deborah Johnson, winner of the 2015 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction for The Secret of Magic; Cassandra King, author of The Same Sweet Girls Guide to Life; Don Noble, host of Alabama Public Radio’s book-review series and host of Bookmark, which airs on Alabama Public Television; and Han Nolan, author of Dancing on the Edge.

This year, the award ceremony will take place at the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The law school, which was Harper Lee’s alma mater, has a press release here. The winner will receive a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird signed by Harper Lee.

The Finalists

Gone Again

Gone Again: “Sashi Burgette vanished three years ago on her way to school. The night after the teenager’s disappearance, ex-con Dylan Reeves was stopped for drunk driving. An article of Sashi’s clothing was found in his truck, and a police videotape of his drunken explanation under interrogation sealed his fate at trial. Now, just days from Kyle’s execution, Sashi’s mother visits Jack Swyteck, doing pro bono work at the Freedom Institute, and delivers shocking news: ‘Sashi called me.’ The police dismiss the call as a cruel hoax. The State Attorney refuses to consider the new evidence, insisting the case is closed. The governor has already signed the death warrant. An innocent man may be executed and time is running out—unless his lawyers can locate Sashi. A man of principle who believes in justice, Jack jumps into the investigation. But the deeper he digs the more he discovers that nothing is what it appears to be. Not the victim. Not her alleged killer. And definitely not Sashi’s parents, whose grief ruptured their marriage, each openly blaming the other for what happened to their daughter.” (Text from the publisher.)

Last Days of Night

The Last Days of Night: “New York, 1888. The miracle of electric light is in its infancy. Thomas Edison has won the race to the patent office and is suing his only remaining rival, George Westinghouse, for the unheard of sum of one billion dollars. To defend himself, Westinghouse makes a surprising choice in his attorney: He hires an untested 26-year-old fresh out of Columbia Law School named Paul Cravath. The task facing Cravath is beyond daunting. Edison proves to be a formidable, wily, and dangerous opponent. Yet this young, unknown attorney shares with his famous opponent a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it? As he takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.” (Text from the publisher.)

Small Great Things

Small Great Things: “Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than 20 years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene? Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.” (Text from the publisher.)

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