The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee (Paperback)
August 2014 Indie Next List
“At long last the reclusive author Harper Lee and her spirited sister, Alice, decided to share the story of their lives, choosing journalist Mills, who became their friend and neighbor in the process, as their biographer. Mills has a gift for listening with respect and retelling with careful observation. Her tale unfolds slowly, without drama, revealing the deep, rich lives of the sisters beneath the quiet surface of their small town routines. Immensely satisfying!”
— Ellen Davis, Dragonwings Bookstore, Waupaca, WI
New York Times Bestseller
“A winning, nuanced portrait. . . . It seems unlikely we’ll ever have a better record of a remarkable American life.” —USA Today
"There are many reasons to be grateful for The Mockingbird Next Door….A zesty account of two women living on their own terms yet always guided by the strong moral compass instilled in them by their father…. It is also an atmospheric tale of changing small-town America; of an unlikely, intergenerational friendship between the young author and her elderly subjects; of journalistic integrity; and of grace and fortitude…. The world [Mills] depicts is sadly gone, but—lucky for us—she caught it just in time."—Washington Post
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the best loved novels of the twentieth century. Yet for the last fifty years, the novel’s celebrated author, Harper Lee, known to her friends as Nelle, has said almost nothing on the record. But in 2001, Nelle and her sister, Alice Finch Lee, opened their door to Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills. It was the beginning of a long conversation—and a wonderful friendship. Mills was given a rare opportunity to know Nelle, to be a part of the Lees’ life in Alabama, and to hear them reflect on their upbringing, their corner of the Deep South, and how To Kill a Mockingbird affected their lives.
About the Author
MARJA MILLS is a former reporter and feature writer for the Chicago Tribune, where she was a member of the staff that won a Pulitzer Prize for a 2001 series about O’Hare Airport entitled “Gateway to Gridlock.”
"There are many reasons to be grateful for The Mockingbird Next Door, Marja Mills’s wonderful memoir of Harper Lee and her sister….Sympathetic and respectful it may be, but The Mockingbird Next Door is no sycophantic puff piece. It is a zesty account of two women living on their own terms yet always guided by the strong moral compass instilled in them by their father…. It is also an atmospheric tale of changing small-town America; of an unlikely, intergenerational friendship between the young author and her elderly subjects; of journalistic integrity; and of grace and fortitude…. Mills doesn’t avoid prickly issues, but she approaches them obliquely and accepts partial answers. Despite her enervating illness, Mills’s writing is energetic. The Mockingbird Next Door is warm yet wistful, a lament for the books Harper Lee never wrote. It ends on an elegiac note, since by the time Mills was able to complete it, the Lees were fading fast, in separate assisted-living facilities. The world she depicts is sadly gone, but—lucky for us—she caught it just in time."
“A lot of people have a lot of ideas about what it means to be American, but here’s one more: To Kill a Mockingbird . . .That fact alone makes The Mockingbird Next Door, a memoir by Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills about her friendship with the book’s author, Harper Lee, a valuable artifact. It’s also a thoughtful, sweet-tempered, witty piece of work . . . The Mockingbird Next Door offers a winning, nuanced portrait. Indeed, given Lee’s deep privacy and advanced age, it seems unlikely we’ll ever have a better record of a remarkable American life.“
“[Marja Mills] has written an intimate, moving book about a rare talent.”
NPR Fresh Air, Maureen Corrigan:
“Charming . . . The Mockingbird Next Door offers a rich sense of the daily texture of the Lee sisters’ lives . . . The world that Mills was invited into over a decade ago has disappeared: both Alice (now 102) and Harper Lee (now 88) are in nursing homes, memories faded. Fortunately, in Mills, the sisters found a genteel family chronicler knocking at their door at the eleventh hour.”
O, The Oprah Magazine:
"Mills has done what no writer before her could: She got Harper Lee to open up about her life, her work, and why she never wrote another book.”
“A rare, surprising, and respectful look at the Lees and their milieu.”
“Hot Type: The Mockingbird Sings: More important than these answers, however, is the voice of Lee herself—and her message, which we still need to hear.”
“In telling their story in The Mockingbird Next Door, Mills writes with the amazement of one who feels kissed by fate. We in turn are blessed with an intimate portrait of Lee.”
“The development of trust and friendship between Mills and the Lee sisters took time, but even in those first minutes, the relationship was nearly unprecedented …Told charmingly in the Lees’ southern drawl and with the affection and closeness that the story reveals, The Mockingbird Next Door is quietly admiring and satisfyingly intimate, and will captivate not only fans of Lee’s great American novel, but fans of real people living modest lives in small-town Alabama, or anywhere.”
“Reading The Mockingbird Next Door is like opening a window into Harper Lee’s private world. As the window closes on the last page, we’re left with nostalgia for one of literature’s greatest talents and the feeling we had the very first time we read her remarkable novel.”
OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network:
“Another real discovery … This intrepid journalist … learned more about the stories behind To Kill a Mockingbird and Harper Lee than anyone before, after or since.”
“This glimpse of a rare bird is delightful.”BookPage:
“A winning and affectionate account….. The Mockingbird Next Door offers a tender look at one of our most beloved and enigmatic writers, as well as the town that inspired her.”
Garden and Gun:
“[Mills is] a skilled writer and storyteller…The Mockingbird Next Door has a near perfect combination of story and fact.”
Books & Culture
“…[U]nlike the masses that went before her, Mills pulls off a journalistic coup by getting first Lee’s sister Alice to open doors for her and then Lee herself . . . Mills has enjoyed unprecedented access to Lee, and we should be grateful for the tidbits she throws our way.”
"For To Kill a Mockingbird fans it's a must-read."
"Mills's book is remarkable."