February 25, 2016 6:53 AM EST

Harper Lee made her mark early on. After she published To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960, she lived quietly in Monroeville, Ala., until her death Feb. 19 at 89. The book tends to enter readers’ lives early too. Mockingbird is a simple story of childhood, but its harsher truths about race in America are complicated enough to reward many rereadings over the course of a lifetime.

This became yet more apparent after last year’s release of the purported sequel Go Set a Watchman, in which Mockingbird’s fair-minded lawyer Atticus Finch is revealed as a racist. Reader outrage ratified the power and impact of Lee’s writing. And the fact that Finch could so convincingly bear both heroism and racial animus proved the clear-sighted genius of a woman for whom the Old South was both morally indefensible and home.

This appears in the March 07, 2016 issue of TIME.

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