Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee

Rate this book
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the best loved novels of the twentieth century. But for the last fifty years, the novel’s celebrated author, Harper Lee, has said almost nothing on the record. Journalists have trekked to her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, where Harper Lee, known to her friends as Nelle, has lived with her sister, Alice, for decades, trying and failing to get an interview with the author. But in 2001, the Lee sisters opened their door to Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills. It was the beginning of a long conversation—and a great friendship.
In 2004, with the Lees’ blessing, Mills moved into the house next door to the sisters. She spent the next eighteen months there, sharing coffee at McDonalds and trips to the Laundromat with Nelle, feeding the ducks and going out for catfish supper with the sisters, and exploring all over lower Alabama with the Lees’ inner circle of friends.
Nelle shared her love of history, literature, and the Southern way of life with Mills, as well as her keen sense of how journalism should be practiced. As the sisters decided to let Mills tell their story, Nelle helped make sure she was getting the story—and the South—right. Alice, the keeper of the Lee family history, shared the stories of their family.
The Mockingbird Next Door is the story of Mills’s friendship with the Lee sisters. It is a testament to the great intelligence, sharp wit, and tremendous storytelling power of these two women, especially that of Nelle.
Mills was given a rare opportunity to know Nelle Harper Lee, to be part of the Lees’ life in Alabama, and to hear them reflect on their upbringing, their corner of the Deep South, how To Kill a Mockingbird affected their lives, and why Nelle Harper Lee chose to never write another novel.

278 pages, Hardcover

First published July 15, 2014

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Marja Mills

2 books17 followers
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.” The Mockingbird Next Door is her first book.

Mills was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. She is a 1985 graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service; a lifelong interest in other cultures led to studies in Paraguay, Spain and Sweden. Mills lives in downtown Chicago and often spends time in Madison and her father’s hometown of Black River Falls, Wisconsin, pop. 3,500.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,497 (19%)
4 stars
2,308 (30%)
3 stars
2,378 (31%)
2 stars
1,034 (13%)
1 star
442 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,281 reviews
Profile Image for Rachel.
361 reviews12 followers
August 6, 2014
Sorry this is so long. If you have to go to the bathroom, now might be a good time.

If it were possible to give this book zero stars, I would, but since doing so doesn't affect the overall rating, I must reluctantly give it one undeserved star. This is a book that never should have been published both because of the circumstances of its writing and because the content of the book itself is worthless and uninteresting. The author Marja Mills and the publisher, Penguin Press, claim that the book was written with the blessing and cooperation of Harper Lee. At the time that I read it, I wasn't aware that Lee has twice categorically denied that claim, first in 2011 when Penguin announced the book's acquisition and again in 2014 immediately after the book's release.

According to Mills, a former reporter for the Chicago Tribune, in 2001 she went to Monroeville, Alabama, where a then-76-year-old Harper Lee, known to her friends by her first name Nelle, lived with her 91-year-old sister Alice. The purpose of Mills's visit was to do research on To Kill a Mockingbird, which had been selected by the Chicago Public Library's "One Book, One Chicago" program (essentially, a city-wide book club). Despite Nelle's decades-long and well-known aversion to publicity and reporters, Mills claims that she quickly built a rapport with Alice and then with Nelle, both of whom, Mills says, recognized that she was a "quality" person and repeatedly praised her for being a "class act." For the next three years, she visited Monroeville frequently, and in 2004, after going on disability leave, she moved to Monroeville and rented the house next door to the Lee sisters. For the next 18 months, she spent almost every day with the sisters and their circle of friends, doing laundry or having coffee at McDonald's or dinner at a local restaurant with Nelle several times a week and spending several hours every Sunday audiotaping Alice's recollections of the Lee family history, all for a book she was planning to write about the sisters, one which she says they approved of and encouraged.

Harper Lee has consistently maintained that Mills is lying. In 2011, she issued the following statement through her attorneys: "Contrary to recent news reports, I have not willingly participated in any book written or to be written by Marja Mills. Neither have I authorized such a book. Any claims otherwise are false." Mills's response to that is that she has a letter, purportedly written by Alice, that essentially says that Harper Lee did not write and does not remember signing this statement. The letter says, "[p]oor Nelle Harper can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence. Now she has no memory of the incident." In a particularly pointed comment, Mills states that she had Harper Lee's verbal support for the book "before [her] stroke."

After the book's publication in 2014, Harper Lee reiterated her earlier statement that the book was written without her cooperation and hinting that Mills had taken advantage of her sister Alice, who was 100 at the time she sent Mills the 2011 letter. Sadly, because of Mills, who claims to be such a good friend to both Alice and Nelle Harper Lee, these two sisters who have been devoted to each other for the entirety of their long lives are now on the record as publicly questioning the other's mental competence.

And were you to read the book, which I strongly recommend you do not, you would see that all of this drama is for nothing, as the book itself is all kinds of Not Good. According to the book jacket, "Mills was given a rare opportunity to know Nelle, to be part of the Lees' life in Alabama, and to hear them reflect on their upbringing, their corner of the Deep South, how To Kill a Mockingbird impacted their lives, and the reasons Nelle Harper Lee chose to never write another novel.” For the sake of argument, let's say that's true. Let's say everything that Marja Mills now says about the Lees' cooperation is true and that she spent more than five years as their closest confidante and recorder of their family history and that she's now written the book that decades of To Kill a Mockingbird fans have been waiting for. If that were the case, the only conclusion to be drawn is that Mills squandered her rare opportunity. Because this is not a book about Harper Lee, the Lee family history, or even the two sisters. It offers no special insight or background information about To Kill a Mockingbird or Monroe County, Alabama or its fictional Maycomb County analog. Despite the alleged years of interviews and hours and hours of taped interviews that Mills says she obtained, there is nothing in this book that offers anything more about those topics than what's already been published elsewhere in the occasional newspaper or magazine article about Lee or her friend and one-time colleague Truman Capote.

What this book is about is Marja Mills. About her lupus, her concern that she lacks a husband and child, her money woes, but mostly about how special she must be to have been included in the inner circle of one of world's most respected yet most private authors, one with a well-documented suspicion of reporters. And Mills credits this all to herself. To her being a class-act person of quality who knew how to take just the right approach and tone with the Lee sisters so that they would trust her. While Mills no doubt believes she's portraying herself as a solid journalist, she came across to me as a bit of a con artist.

What she isn't, is a good writer because, my god, is this book ever useless. I would estimate that a good 40% of it is story after story of how she and Nelle went to McDonald's for coffee, and while they were there Nelle told her something revealing and fascinating but then said it was off the record, and so Marja had to respect that. But the important thing is that they had coffee. With cream and Splenda. And after Nelle empties her Splenda packet, she folds up the paper in a little square. Why, this is exactly the kind of Harper Lee information fans have been craving.

Then there's the story Nelle told about the time some relatives of hers went to the cemetery and their car got stuck in the mud. They got out and looked at the mud and Cousin Louie said it was a problem of physics. After that, Nelle was laughing so hard that Mills didn't hear what the end of the story was. But she hopes you enjoyed that first part.

Since Mills didn't talk about herself at all in Chapter 23, she began Chapter 24 by saying that while she was living next door to the Lees, she decided to adopt a baby from China. She'd been debating it for years and had finally decided to do it. But then she didn't. Isn't that interesting?

Oh wait, maybe this is something:
Nelle leaned over Alice and spoke loudly. "Don't get into any trouble now while we're away, Bear," she said. The name seemed incongruous for someone so petite. I asked Nelle early on where the nickname came from. "That's for me to know and you to find out," she said. I didn't press it. It wasn't until the two of us made a day trip to Montgomery that Nelle gave me a clue to the origin of her name for her big sister.

The family had rented a home in Montgomery one summer when A.C. Lee was serving in the legislature. Nelle was just a little girl, but an early memory was going to the zoo with Alice and seeing the bears.

Oops sorry, false alarm. That's the entirety of the Bear story. In a related matter, this book retails for $27.95.

I describe Mills's lame attempts at crafting a narrative that doesn't immediately transform itself into the textual form of Ambien because I think it provides pretty good evidence that the Lee sisters didn't tell her anything noteworthy. If these kind of non-anecdotes are the best of what she gleaned from so many years of talking to the Lees and their friends, then it's clear that far from cooperating and assisting her in writing a book, they were probably just being polite, neighborly, and friendly. Mills repays them by trying to profit from the lives and privacy they've tried so hard to protect. To quote Mills's July 2014 statement, "[t]he stories they shared with me that I recount in the book speak for themselves." Indeed.

In what I thought was the passage that most reveals Mills's motives, she talks about a time when she was sitting in the car with Nelle after driving her home:
[I]n my mind's eye an image flashed of the two of us in the car. Then I saw us from a greater distance, as if this were all a movie and the camera were panning back from two women sitting in a blue Dodge, porch light casting a yellow glow. At a greater distance than that, the Lees' home was one of many in Monroeville with a porch light on that evening. And from an even greater distance, Monroeville would be just one dot in the state of Alabama.

She's envisioning the film version of her book and offering helpful tips to the director about the camera work. I can't decide if this is gross or hilarious or pathetic, but I'm pretty sure that in her mind's eye, the part of Marja Mills is being played by either Scarlett Johansson, Charlize Theron, or Michelle Williams. Though, if I were casting it, I'd choose someone whose head was shaped more like a canned ham.
Author 5 books587 followers
September 6, 2015
Marja Mills' The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Marja Mills.

Negative reviewers on Goodreads are often urged to give a thought to the writers behind the books. These writers have hearts and souls and hopes and dreams. They care about what people say about their books.

Fair enough. But what if all we ever hear about in a book is the heart and soul and hopes and dreams of the author in question, when what we were really hoping for was a peek at the person the book's supposed to be about?

Perhaps reading this book is fitting punishment for anyone who wanted to read this book in the first place. Harper Lee, after all, insists that this book was not written with her approval or consent.

If you need a better reason not to read it, how about: it's boring.

Even if every word Mills wrote about Harper Lee is God's own truth, you're better off reading Lee's Wikipedia entry. It has more information, and it's short and to the point.

Reading this book will expose you to such deathless prose as Marja Mills taking an entire paragraph to knock on Harper Lee's door:

I raised my hand to knock and stopped. It occurred to me my cardigan might smell like the mildew that was my unwelcome roommate for the time being. The baskets of scented Walmart pine cones I placed strategically around the house only meant that the place now smelled of mildew with an odd note of cinnamon. Me, too? I lifted my forearm to my face and sniffed. Not great but passable. I knocked.

That's right, kids. She gets to Lee's door, thinks about knocking on the door, and then knocks on her door, only taking about a hundred words to do so.

If the door drama sounds almost too exciting, bear in mind that there are also paper towels.

Julia put the bowl on the counter to my left and set out a paper towel.

"For the seeds."

Mills obediently slips her scuppernong seeds into the paper towel a few paragraphs later. And then, on the next page:

I realized I was still holding the crumpled paper towel.

"Is there a..."

"I'll take that," Julia said. She threw away the paper towel and returned to the stove.

If that's not enough paper-product drama for you, have no fear! About forty pages later, there are: more paper towels!

The paper towel dispenser was on the wall, several steps from where Alice stood. To reach it, she would have had to grip her walker with wet hands. I handed her a paper towel.

Alice dried her hands and then matter-of-factly wiped clean the area around the sink.

There's more, but I'm having a hard time staying awake so you're just going to have to imagine it.

If you need more reasons not to read this book, or something to help you fall asleep tonight, I offer you the following lengthy, pointless mess:

Late one morning, Nelle [Harper Lee] and I were taking the long way back from McDonald's to West Avenue. Instead of making the usual right onto Alabama, Nelle took the back way out of the McDonald's lot. She made a left onto the Highway 21 Bypass. We sped along past the Subway sandwich shop and the Ace Hardware store, both to our left, and up the incline to the intersection with Pineville Road. The Bypass ended here. Turn right and you were on the rural stretch of highway to Julia Munnerlyn's house in the country and, just beyond, to the tiny town of Peterman.

Turn left on Pineville, as we did, and you were headed toward the Methodist church. Immediately to our right, we drove past a couple of abandoned structures, a weathered house and a dilapidated gas station, neither of which looked to have been occupied since the Depression, give or take. We passed Dale's large redbrick Baptist church on our right. Nelle slowed and glanced over at me. We were coming up on First Methodist, its white steeple stately against a blue sky.

"Do you mind if we stop off in the cemetery?"

I did not mind.

She knew her way around the cemetery and idled the car in front of a few headstones. They weren't names I recognized. She didn't volunteer information about the interred and I didn't ask. Something reminded her of a story and a smile spread.

"Has Alice told you about our Aunt Alice and Cousin Louie encountering a problem at the cemetery?" Nelle laughed.

I'd heard about other Aunt Alice capers, to be sure, but none in a cemetery.

"You see, Cousin Louie took Aunt Alice and a couple of other old ladies to pay a visit to the cemetery." This was not in Monroeville but, she thought, Atmore. They paid their respects at a number of graves, and were having a perfectly pleasant outing, as cemetery visits go. Then Louie, who was driving, got the underside of the car caught on a mound of grass – more of a small, steep hill – she tried to drive over. The car was stuck there, like a turtle on a short pole.

Louie tried to go forward. Nothing. She tried to put the sedan in reverse. Nothing. They were stuck. The ladies peered out the car windows. They would have to half-step, half-drop out of the car to get out. And then there still would be the problem of what to do next.

Louie clambered down onto the grass from the driver's seat. She took several steps back and surveyed the situation. She walked around the car, perched firmly atop the grass mound, and issued her report to the others, who remained in the vehicle.

"What confronts us," Louie declared, "is a problem of physics."

Nelle dissolved into laughter as she said this, so much so that I never did hear the solution.

I hope you didn't doze off and miss key details like passing the Subway sandwich shop on the way to that unfinished, only-funny-if-you-were-there-for-it non-story.

If reading that made you hunger for a couple of hundred more pages of such writing, read this book. If it inspired you to Google Steve Martin's frenzied rant on how not everything is an anecdote, don't.
Profile Image for Mary.
411 reviews13 followers
July 24, 2014
A real disappointment. Far from being a revealing behind-the-scenes portrait of Nelle Harper Lee and her sister Alice, this book was essentially a memoir about the process of writing a memoir--I kept waiting for the real story to start, but the narrative never moved far beyond "we-drove-here, we-did-that" banalities. I finished the book not knowing much more about the sisters than I did when I started--and a whole lot more about author Marja Mills than I ever wanted to hear.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
July 18, 2014
Nelle Harper Lee only ever published one book, the American classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Apparently she never wrote another, and rarely appeared in public, though in 2007 she traveled to Washington, D.C, to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-President George W. Bush. When Marja Mills went to Monroeville, Alabama in hopes she could score an interview with the reclusive Ms. Lee, she had little idea that they would become friends and neighbors in years to come.

Nelle in 2007
The Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony in 2007

Marja Mills was working at the Chicago Sun Times when she first approached Harper Lee by letter in 2001. At the time, “Nelle” as her friends called her, was worried that an unauthorized biography of her would destroy her privacy and reputation so she consented to Mills interviewing her friends and neighbors. The resulting 2002 article gives insight into what Nelle and her sister Alice had been doing since Nelle Harper Lee’s first and only novel won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize.

Harper Lee in the 1960's
Harper Lee in the 1960's in Alabama

Alice Finch Lee was ninety years old in 2001, and was still practicing law in Monroeville. Nelle Harper Lee was 76. Both sisters were unmarried and had been living together since at least 1964 when Nelle stopped giving interviews. “I would not go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money,” she told the close friend Reverend Thomas Butts. Acerbic of tongue and sharp of wit, Harper Lee no longer wrote books for publication, though she continued to write on a manual typewriter right up until 2007 when she suffered a serious stroke.

Mills’ early article became the kernel of this much longer book due out just as the PBS documentary Freedom Summer airs to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Mills, herself suffering from a debilitating Lupus diagnosis, moved into the neighboring house of the Lees’ and shared their stories and their lives for a year and a half in the first decade of the 21st century. She wrote at a "glacially slow" pace due to her illness, and perhaps to preserve the sisters' privacy a little longer. Mills now shares with us her experience living beside the woman who wrote the “Best Book of the 20th Century,” according to Library Journal.

This book does not pretend to be a biography in the full sense of the word. Mills never did get an on-the-record interview with Harper Lee. She was able to interview Alice and Nelle’s friends extensively over a period of years and used that material to compile this book about Nelle’s habits (catfish and laundry), interests (reading and talking), and personality (“hell and pepper”). The pace of the book is Southern slow and languid, and what I learned about the great author made me sad. The celebrity of her first and only novel was so overwhelming, insistent, and enduring that she never wanted to do it again. Think J.D. Salinger, Thomas Pynchon, and others whose first success became their cross to bear.

Harper Lee remained an avid reader particularly of histories, Lord Macaulay Thomas Babington Macaulay in particular. Jane Austen was a favorite novelist. Her tastes in film were a little more pedestrian, with Mills recounting the Nelle’s Netflix rental of a Wallace and Gromit animated film. Lee spent part of every year in New York and this reader is pleased her anonymity allowed her to enjoy the common pleasures to be found there. She kept her lifelong friendship with Gregory Peck and his family, and is quoted elsewhere as saying it he was part of the best film adaptation of a book ever made.

What I needed to be reminded was that Truman Capote was a childhood friend of Harper Lee, and she went with him to research his nonfiction novel, In Cold Blood in Holcomb, Kansas. Earlier, they’d ended up living in the same apartment building in New York City, where the 20-something Harper Lee began writing.

Harper lee & capote
Harper Lee and Truman Capote

There must have been “something in the water” down there in Monroeville for two writers of such stature to come to the nation’s consciousness about the same time. One might almost think the imagination and talent of each infected and spurred the other to greater achievement. Joshua Wolf Shenk has a book coming out in August 2014 called Powers of Two (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) which makes the case for creativity often coming from pairs…and not singly. Though the two did not cooperate on their work generally, their friendship may been a spur to a competitive talent that made both their work great.

Mills was careful to preserve the privacy of Harper Lee and her book begins slowly, but eventually we get a clear picture of the woman and her life. Mills herself anguished at times that such a talent couldn’t be persuaded to publish again, but we can only hope that there are still manuscripts to be discovered among her papers. Now in assisted living care, Nelle Harper Lee has finally signed a contract to allow her American classic to be published as an eBook, and an audiofile of the book has just been released by Audible.com, narrated by Sissy Spacek.

This is a remarkable document that will have to serve as the memorial to a woman so desperate to preserve her privacy that she withdrew from the public. Her sister Alice raised the point that once Nelle had reached the pinnacle of art with her first book, she may have been dissatisfied with everything that she later wrote. In any case, she left us a lasting legacy that we can enjoy forever. We wish her well.

Many thanks to Random House for the advance audio production of this title, read by Amy Lee Stewart.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,734 reviews14.1k followers
October 1, 2014
I know there is a big debate going on with the author of the book and I have read numerous interviews and articles on the subject. After reading the book and the interview with Nell Harper's good friend Tom, who is mentioned quite often in the book, it is hard to believe that this book was written without Nell's tacit approval. Of course I could be wrong, but I can only judge the book, not how it was written.

I enjoyed this very much. It was great reading about Nell and her sister Alice, learning about their reading likes and dislikes. Added a few books to my towering TBR. Learning about their family, their past, their daily lives. The author went back and forth for many years, was introduced to the people and places they loved. She eventually rented the house next door for eighteen months, was back and forth between their two houses. She discusses Nell's relationship with Truman and her great love for Gregory Peck and his family. This was a very easy to read and well written chronicle of the author, her trials and challenges and her burgeoning relationship with both sisters. It was all things Southern and all things literary. I thought the author did a wonderful job and had an experience she will never forget. The Harpers, Nell and Alice, were both amazing women.
Profile Image for Jessaka.
887 reviews121 followers
October 4, 2018
This is my own made up story, because this is how the book sounded to me, but then I dressed it up with fruitcake:

After curling my hair I got my coat and hat on and headed out the door to visit Nellie at her home next door. As I was walking across the yard to her home, a gentle rain began falling. In seconds my hair became limp, so I headed back home and re-curled it. I got out my plastic rain bonnet and put it on my head. You may remember the kind. They fold up like an accordion and have a tie at each end. Well, maybe you don’t remember them, but they unfold and go over your head. Maybe they even still make them.

I put my coat back on and left my hat on a chair. I stepped out the door and made it over the Nellie’s house. I knocked, and while I was knocking on her door my hair went limp again, but she opened the door before I could go back home and fix it. She was wearing black slacks, a turquoise sweater and house slippers with bunny heads on top. So cute, but she was always cute.

She invited me inside and offered me green tea, which is what I am about to drink right now in order to wake myself up. We sat and visited for a while. It was like every other time with her, we just chatted about nothing. This time though, I asked her why she never wrote another book. She said that she didn’t wish to write one because she would have to go to functions that her publisher wished her to attend. I said, “Why? Cormac McCarthy is a famous writer and he never gives interviews or goes to functions that his publisher would have liked him to attend. Like you, he is private, yet he still writes and sells books. And furthermore, you don’t always do as you are told.” She just gave me a strange look, and I thought maybe I had better shut up. So I changed the subject.

“Do you ever make fruitcakes?” I asked. “No,” she replied with a different kind of strange look creeping up on her face. “That was Truman’s book.” “Oh, yes,” I said and then added, “Do you like fruitcake?” “NO!!!” she replied giving three exclamation marks for emphasis.

Then I saved the day by telling her my own fruitcake story: “I was a college student living in the city of Berkeley. My roommate moved out, leaving me 5 or 6 bottles of different liqueurs with maybe a fourth of cup left in each. I didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t really drink and still don’t.

But Christmas was coming up, and my employer gave me a fruitcake. Maybe she didn’t like me, or maybe it was given to her and passed on to me. Either way, she must not have liked me. I thanked her and took it home. That was when I got the brilliant idea to soak it in the liqueurs. After a few hours I decided to lie down on my bed, watch TV, and eat some fruitcake. It was so good that I kept eating, and then all the sudden I felt funny. Dizzy. What is wrong? And then I passed out.” I smiled at Nellie, and then I added, “Fruitcake can be made to be very delicious.” She frowned. Then I told her that I had an appointment to take my dog to the veterinarian. So I put on my coat and my accordion rain bonnet. She walked me to the door, and I said to her, “It is always so interesting visiting with you, because you are always have so much to say.” She replied, “Yes. We must visit again soon.”
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews515 followers
May 3, 2017
Harper "Nell" Lee grew up and lived most of her life in Monroeville, AL which is about an hour northeast of me, so I kept up with her via reports from time to time in the local news. Yet, as many know she was generally shy, highly averse to media and unwilling to give interviews.

It's my belief that, as Ms. Lee claimed just prior to publication of this bookrag, she was duped into granting access to the author who had moved in next door saying she was "working on a book," staying only so long as needed to get enough copy for a manuscript (and a handsome publisher's payout).

Nonetheless, I was interested enough to borrow a copy to read.

The kindest thing I can say about this book is that it was so-so enough to "read part of it all the way through" (borrowing a quip from Sam Goldwyn).
Profile Image for Petergiaquinta.
511 reviews103 followers
November 3, 2014
This is a marvel of a book and a must-read for any fan of To Kill a Mockingbird. Written by Marja Mills, a former features writer for the Chicago Tribune, the book grows out of a marvel of a story that Mills wrote for the Trib back in 2002 when mayor Richie Daley chose To Kill a Mockingbird as the first book for the kick-off of his One Book, One Chicago reading program in the fall of 2001. When I opened the Trib that morning and saw the full-page spread with Harper Lee’s photo, I was shocked and amazed that she had cooperated with the story and given the city of Chicago her blessing of sorts by allowing herself to be photographed for the story.

Here’s a link to that article:

And Mills’ book goes back to flesh out how she wrote that story, how she won the trust and confidence of older sister Alice Lee and family friend Thomas Butts not only to gain access to Harper Lee, but to be welcomed into her circle of friends and eventually spend a great deal of time with her masquerading as a sort of family friend.

By now you’ve probably heard the story, as improbable as it seems. The journalist knocks on the door and Alice Lee answers and invites her in. That first conversation leads to a meeting with Thomas Butts, and then a meeting with Harper Lee at the Monroeville Best Western, which over time grows into a relationship with the Lee sisters that lasts for years, with the journalist eventually moving in next door to the Lees and spending over a year living in Monroeville, AL, regularly interviewing Alice Lee and spending a great deal of time with Harper, engaging with her and Alice in some fascinating intimate moments. And those moments are indeed fascinating:

•Mills rents Netflix for Harper Lee and they watch Wallace and Grommit. And Harper Lee likes Fargo, too!
•They cheer for the Crimson Tide on Saturdays.
•They do their laundry together at the Monroeville laundromat.
•Mills goes fishing with Alice and Harper at a family friend's fish pond, using hotdogs for bait.
•She feeds the ducks with Harper and Alice, a regular outing for the two elderly sisters.
•She goes to exercise classes with Harper Lee and a bunch of fading southern belles in velour sweat suits.
•She rides out Hurricane Dennis with Harper and Alice in a bank in downtown Monroeville.
•She watches Superbowl 38 with the Lee sisters, although Mills is out of the room when Justin Timberlake rips off Janet Jackson’s top during the halftime show.

So if you’re a fan of the novel and curious about its reclusive author, this is the kind of book you probably have been waiting for with its insights into some of the most private moments of one of our most private authors.

And yet, as I was reading and enjoying this book, I was also thinking about the ethics of it all because Marja Mills isn’t Harper Lee’s friend at all; she’s a writer for the Trib. And although Alice and Thomas Butts have signed onto the whole thing, it seems that Harper Lee is never quite along for the ride on the idea of a book. It’s clear, even in Mills’ slanted presentation of it all, that Harper Lee is never on board, and that becomes clear at several points in The Mockingbird Next Door. And so when Mills and Harper Lee are at the local diner or getting coffee at McDonalds or feeding the ducks or doing their laundry, part of me felt a bit anxious for Harper Lee because, as much as I want to know as much as I can about the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, she’s being deceived by Mills, and it’s not very nice. And that deception goes on for five years or more.

So, as much as I liked reading Mills’ book and enjoyed pulling back the curtain to spy on these special moments with Harper Lee, part of me is tempted to give The Mockingbird Next Door one star for Mills' dishonesty. Mills crosses a line here that maybe most journalists cross, but just because I yearn to know the details of Harper Lee's life, doesn't mean I have the right to know these things. In contrast, the director of the recent documentary Hey Boo never crosses this line. In that fine documentary, Thomas Butts and Alice Finch are interviewed at great length. But nowhere is Harper Lee coopted for a project she is not on board with. But in The Mockingbird Next Door, the reader is given privileged glimpses into the private life of a private woman who had no desire to share those moments with me and the rest of the world. Mills might have done me and the rest of the world a favor, but she’s done a terrible disservice to Harper Lee, and that’s a sin, if I can quote Atticus here.

I had a couple of old maid great aunts, two old sisters who were funny and eccentric and wacky as all get out. They lived their odd lives to ripe old ages doing their odd things and having a great time at it. Neither of them was famous, so no one outside of the family would have ever been interested in talking to them or writing a book about them. But I can’t help but think how easy it would be and how unethical to worm one's way into the lives of two elderly “maiden ladies,” to use the language Harper Lee uses herself to talk about Sarah and Frances Barber, two minor characters who make an appearance near the end of To Kill a Mockingbird. Miss Tutti and Frutti, as the neighborhood kids call them, are figures of fun in Maycomb, two old deaf ladies who have the only cellar in Maycomb. And one Halloween night, the kids in town prank the old ladies by putting their furniture in their cellar. It’s cruel and unnecessary, one more example of the title playing out in Harper Lee’s brilliant novel. The lesson is clear: it’s cruel and plain wrong to pull a prank on a couple of deaf old ladies. It’s like killing a mockingbird…

So how sickeningly ironic that Mills would title her book The Mockingbird Next Door without much thought to how Harper Lee would respond to its publication. She’s right, though; Harper Lee is a mockingbird and, just like Atticus tells Jem and Scout, it’s a sin to hurt her. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy,” Miss Maudie tells Scout. And that’s why it’s a sin to kill them. Marja Mills might have known this if she knew the book a little better. But she doesn’t. [Here are two good examples—she mentions chinaberry trees with their poisonous fruit, that’s not in the book: the Radley pecans are poisonous, according to neighborhood lore. And she writes that Reverend Sykes does the lining at First Purchase—but that’s not right either: it’s Zeebo, Calpurnia’s son.] So it’s no surprise to me that Mills hasn't learned the lesson of the mockingbird, either.

Mills could have waited. Alice and Harper Lee will be dead soon enough, five years, ten years…Then everything would be fair game, and no one would be hurt. But Mills had to get her precious book out before then. The irony is so thick it’s almost choking. Near the end of the novel, Heck Tate tells Atticus, “To my way of thinking…taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin him with his shy ways into the limelight—to me, that’s a sin. It’s a sin and I’m not about to have it on my head.” Heck is talking to Atticus about Boo Radley, of course, the mockingbird next door. But he could just as easily be saying these words to Marja Mills about Nelle Harper Lee.

Profile Image for Kristen Hooper.
120 reviews43 followers
July 15, 2014
Lee stated, ”Contrary to recent news reports, I have not willingly participated in any book written or to be written by Marja Mills. Neither have I authorized such a book. Any claims otherwise are false.”

:/ This book is going on the "TO-AVOID" list.

Profile Image for Deacon Tom F.
1,768 reviews133 followers
April 15, 2022
Very Personal

A lovely book that looks into the personal life of one of America’s finest writers.

The author gets unprecedented access to Ms. Lee and her sister.

A fine book.
Profile Image for Bob Varettoni.
184 reviews5 followers
August 2, 2014
Let Us Now Praise Harper Lee

After reading “The Mockingbird Next Door,” I admire Harper Lee even more -- and I didn’t think that was possible.

I can’t fathom why the celebrated author, now 88, says she never authorized the book. There’s too much detail here to disavow (the whole scene of watching “Capote” in her living room, for example). These details describe a smart, witty, engaging, opinionated and proudly unconventional woman who was born and raised at the right time, in the right place, and who had just the right artistic temperament, to produce what might be America’s greatest novel.

I love the Harper Lee portrayed in this book... the aging, lively and complex author who never wrote a second novel. And what difference does that make? If the Devil himself offered 10 million writers the chance to tell only one story of the caliber of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” he’d be able to purchase 10 million souls in a heartbeat.

I feel, in fact, embarrassed that Lee had to put up with the rest of us clowns in this new millennium. I cringed reading Marja Mills' description of watching the 2004 Super Bowl with the Lee sisters. Were those really erectile dysfunction commercials? Did they really just see Janet Jackson’s breast? There are the many cups of coffee Mills shared with Lee at McDonald’s, watching her neatly fold and refold spent packets of Splenda... going to senior exercise classes in Monroeville... waiting with Lee for a table at Bonefish Grill while surrounded by oblivious business-suited young professionals on cell phones.

Why did we drag down such a transcendent talent in her later years by surrounding her with such petty ordinariness?

I also read with interest about how much time Lee anonymously spent in New York, taking public transit and rooting for the New York Mets. I think now of all the times I may have passed her on the streets or ignored her on the 7 train when I worked in New York in the early 2000s. With respect to E.B. White, this gift of privacy bestowed for many years on Harper Lee is exemplary of New York City's true magic.

My quibble with this respectfully written book is that the author injects too much of herself in the telling. For all the time Mills reminds us what great storytellers Lee and her sister Alice were, we don’t actually get to read all those stories.

Apparently, many stories were kept off the record on purpose -- and, to me, this lends credence to the belief that Lee cooperated with its publication.

No matter. When it comes to Harper Lee and in spite of how much I enjoyed this book, I’m OK with keeping her life surrounded in a little mystery. I think we all owe her at least that much.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
462 reviews289 followers
November 20, 2016
I have read some scathing reviews surrounding this book and I was aware of it before I embarked on the audiobook version but I have an endless fascination about people and what makes them tick so to get the opportunity to get an insight and a look behind the scenes about a novelist as beloved as Harper Lee who has always been so reclusive and private in that she hardly granted any interviews the fact she penned one of the most treasured and loved books of the entire world and a book that has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide was sure to pique my interest. The book moves slowly but shares tidbits of information about Harper Lee and her sister who live in the same house and share most of their lives together. So this book is as much a book about Nelle Harper Lee as it is about her sister Alice and the myriad of friends from their small Alabama town of Monroeville which was the inspiration for the fictitious town of Maycombe County in her famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Marja Mills quickly befriends and is surprisingly welcomed by the Lee sisters who are notoriously private and don't often allow strangers into their inner sanctum particularly of the journalistic variety. The Lee's live a simple very removed life away from the prying eyes of the media and virtually removed from the technological world that revolves around them. I sensed that the author treaded carefully as the writing is noticeably cautious and considered almost afraid of the wrath of Nelle who is quite a prickly character when crossed or probed too deeply into her inner affairs, when often questioned on a topic she finds intrusive or private she often replies "that's for me to know and you to find out" quickly shutting down that particular line of questioning. There is not a lot to uncover as the sisters are reserved to the core, sharing lighthearted stories of the characters of their small town and giving an in depth history of the area which they live in. They are incredibly guarded when questions surrounding their mother and are steadfastly loyal to their very much loved father who inspired the character of Atticus. Getting to know the two sisters you see clearly her inspiration for the book was all around her, with tomboy Scout being a close replica of a young Nelle, feisty and spirited. There was obviously questions that remain unanswered you never really get a background on Harper's love life or private relationships. What you do get is a strong bond between the sisters and that was something I would never have known if I had not read this book. My favourite parts that were the most revealing were the ladies thoughts on their former neighbour and longterm friend Truman Capote, they have some strong views on him and I enjoyed hearing about it. I liked the book but I can see how some people found it boring and uneventful I liked the sense of quiet storytelling and the slow pace of the book, which complemented the theme and style of the story of the reclusive pair and I believe the author was very respectful of her subject matter and therefore I think this was an enjoyable read. Although only recommended for die hard fans of the book otherwise I would skip this altogether as the slow pace could be an obstacle
Profile Image for Maria.
17 reviews3 followers
July 16, 2014
This book is a lie, and it makes me furious.

According to Harper Lee:
"Miss Mills befriended my elderly sister, Alice. It did not take long to discover Marja's true mision; another book about Harper Lee. I was hurt, angry and saddened, but not surprised. I immediately cut off all contact with Miss Mills, leaving town whenever she headed this way. I understand that Ms. Mills has a statement signed by my elderly sister claiming I cooperated with this book. My sister would have been 100 years old at the time...Rest assured, as long as I am alive any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood."


Shame on her.
Profile Image for Larry Bassett.
1,413 reviews300 followers
September 19, 2014
This book is a lesson in patience. Harper Lee has been avoiding contact with journalists for decades so when a writer from the Chicago Tribune breaks into her world, it is a big deal. This book has just been published in 2014 and the interviews upon which it is based began in 2001. It all took a while to come together. First, let’s make it clear that it really isn’t Harper at all; her friends know her as Nelle and that is what she is called in this book. Because the author was someone who became a friend and was trusted into Nelle’s world. Or that is what appears on the surface.

Now, before I spend much more time writing (and you reading) this, let me refer you to other reviews that you will easily find here on Goodreads that both praise and vilify this book and author.

PRAISE: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

VILIFICATION: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Common sense must tell you that the truth lies somewhere in between! You could devote a lot of time trying to get to the truth in this matter. Or you could, like me, just read the book, take it for what it is worth, and go on with the rest of life. The book is mostly Southern laid back with lots of small town daily life minutia and not too northern, analytical fancy-smancy. The detractors will say that there is nothing really new here but I was not really keeping up over the years so I found it at least mildly entertaining and informative. Author Mills is a bit full of herself, they say? Well, how about that, I say.

I should also admit that I am somewhat fascinated with the mystery of J.D. Salinger. So being intrigued with Harper Lee comes easy. Three stars for letting us know that Nelle Harper Lee is a private, complicated person. Some may say the real story is from when the book “ends” in 2005 until it was published in 2014. I found the book an enjoyable read regardless of the ensuing legal and technical complications.
Profile Image for Cammie.
360 reviews10 followers
January 23, 2020
How have I not already read The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills? The better question is: Why can't I be Marja Mills? Ugh! I am so jealous!
The time Mills spent in Monroeville interviewing and becoming friends with the Lee sisters would be so amazing and unbelievable to experience. She became part of their small inner circle of trusted individuals. Considering Harper's reclusive tendencies, I find this amazing.
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books, and I count myself lucky to teach it every year, (and I re-read it every year as well).
My family's afternoon visit to Monroeville nearly five years ago on the way home from our Florida vacation was a dream come true for this English teacher, but now I think I'd like to return for a longer visit to be able to really see this town that was the model for Scout and Jem's Maycomb, AL. In addition, I'd really like to see the annual play on the courthouse lawn sometime in the future.
Profile Image for Lynn.
24 reviews18 followers
July 17, 2014
This book made me uncomfortable. I felt like I was reading Harper Lee's diary and I had no right to. I know, I know, I know that Marja Mills said she had the cooperation and full support of the Lee sisters in writing this book, but Harper Lee has since said that was not the case:


But, I was on the waiting list for it at the library, and it came in right away, so, I read it. Still, I don't feel right about it.

Even if Harper Lee did agree to this book at one point and change her mind (which is not what I'm saying happened) - still - what kind of friend claims to respect your privacy and then goes and blabs to the world the location of your favorite fishing hole and the name of every (and I do mean *every*) restaurant where the two of you apparently ever shared a meal?

That being said, I was interested in this story. Mills jumped around in time, and some details were repeated a few times and didn't need to be, but on the whole it was a good story. It's just I'm not sure it's one that should have been told, or at least told right now. (I'm still debating whether it would have been more or less exploitative for Mills to have waited to publish this until the Lee sisters are no longer alive.)
6 reviews6 followers
July 22, 2014
So disappointing. "To Kill A Mockingnird" is my all-time favorite book & I couldn't wait to learn more about Harper Lee. The tidbits about Haroer's life were interesting but overall I felt that Marja Mills wrote one of the most self-serving books I've ever read. Tooting her own horn & constantly reminding the reader that she was a "class-act journalist." I believe she took advantage of Nelle Harper Lee & her sister Alice & it's every sad to me.
Profile Image for Brittain *Needs a Nap and a Drink*.
373 reviews445 followers
June 10, 2015
Everybody, especially in Alabama, knows that Nelle Harper Lee just wants to be left alone. Every year it seems, there is another person trying to get an inside look at her life and she always refuses, with good reason. Just because you write a beautiful and authentic book does not mean you get to be pestered for the rest of your life.

Authors like Mills really need to learn some respect and leave Harper Lee alone. It's not your story to tell so stop prying. Harper Lee has already told the story she wanted to tell and it is To Kill a Mockingbird.
Profile Image for Elisha (lishie).
617 reviews14 followers
January 22, 2014
I so enjoyed this! This rare look at the recluse... And that Nelle Harper Lee is a hoot, adored the stories... Adore the Lees. Now I want to watch the Truman Capote movies & read his novels too, seeing them through Nell's eyes. I also liked getting a peak into the author Marja Mills' life with Lupus... Good read for Harper Lee fans.
Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,768 reviews333 followers
May 18, 2020
Audiobook narrated by Amy Lynn Stewart

Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills was sent to Monroeville, Alabama on an assignment – the Chicago Public Library had picked To Kill a Mockingbird for it’s “One Book, One Chicago” project and her editor wanted some background. She had no real hope of interviewing Harper Lee, but decided she had to at least try. So she went to the Lee sisters’ home and rang the doorbell. She met Alice who graciously invited her in and spoke at length and on the record for the newspaper article. The next day Alice gave Mills more time and introduced her to their long-time friend and minister. And then the unexpected happened… Nelle Harper Lee called Mills and suggested they meet.

Over time Mills became friends with the sisters. A health crisis required Mills to take a bit of a sabbatical, and a warmer climate and gentler lifestyle were recommended, so she decided to rent a house in Monroeville. And that house was right next door to the Lees. In this book, Mills tries to chronicle her experiences over several years of shared meals, drives in the country, trips to the cemetery, and Scotch on the front porch, and what she learned from the sisters about the South, religion, faith, family and justice.

I found it engaging and interesting, though at times repetitive. I’m aware of the controversy that surrounded its publication, but that did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of this book.

Amy Lynn Stewart does a fine job of narrating the audiobook. There were times when I felt that Nelle or Alice was speaking directly to me, relating a story about their parents or a cousin’s automobile mishap.
Profile Image for Jenny's  .
173 reviews47 followers
July 18, 2015
I've been waiting with anticipation to read this. I confess I've always been curious why Harper Lee had never published another book. I was drawn to this story because it was reportedly done with the express consent and support of the author Harper Lee, and older sister Alice.

Taking a break later this evening I searched the Internet for Harper Lee, wanting to see more of her life in photographs. There is a small smatering of them in the center of the book.

To my shock and surprise I find controversy brewing over whether she was supportive of this book being written. She has issued a statement denying any authorization of the book, or any book as long as she living.

It seems obvious to me that Marja Mills had to have intimate access to Alice and (Nelle) Harper Lee, to write such an extensive and warm biographic look at their lives, their friends, and world they were part of at the time of this writing.

Despite the controversy, I am finding the book to be warm, kind, generous, rich in stories and experience.

One of my favorite parts is When Marja walks up to the home for the first time and knocks. She is fully expecting to be rebuffed or ignored. Instead Alice invites her in to the home. (the same home countless reporters and writers have been turned away from) Alice is full of that charm southerners are famous for. Invited to try some "scuppernongs", and fried green tomatoes, the aroma of cooking wafting through the home. Julia a friend and helper to the sisters does the cooking.

But it's the description of the home that first attracts me, tantalizes me. It's simplicity, and it's full of Books!!! BOOKS EVERYWHERE!!! Favorite authors, Falkner, EudoraWelty, Jane Austen, Thomas Macaulay.

"Alice preferred nonfiction, and especially British and American histories, And Nelle devoured those too."

The book is inviting, gentle, and warm. There is no doubt Marja Mills has captured something special here.

I would like to believe that no artifice was involved. Knowing absolutely nothing about Marja Mills. I would like to believe the best of her and that she was straightforward and honest about her intentions as she has said. It makes sense based on the access to her inspiration.

The epilogue explains the bad turn of health age has demanded from the remaining family. At this time both sisters are living in Assisted living facilities.

These acounts, of their life will most likely be the last and best glimpse into the life of Harper Lee.

Setting all the controversy aside, if your goal is to learn more about Harper Lee and her life. This book offers something special and accomplishes that.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,254 reviews451 followers
November 11, 2014
This book was a disappointment to me. It was not very well-written, the anecdotes about the Lee sisters were dull, and I only finished it because it's a book club assignment. Having said that, it was a revelation to me in revealing details of Harper Lee's life, and that of her sister Alice, in the final years of their life. Alice was arguably the more fascinating of the sisters, practicing law until she was 100 years old, reading extensively about English history, yet never visiting that country, and maintaining a wonderful sense of humor and inquisitiveness. Their lives in Monroeville seemed remarkably dull, with feeding the ducks in a local pond a high point of their day. Time seemed to forget these ladies. With no money worries at all because of the enduring success of Harper Lee's one book, they lived in a small house with no television, no computer, no air conditioning, and apparently not even a washer and dryer, since the author went to the laundromat on a regular basis with Harper. Neither sister cooked, there were books in the oven, and most meals were eaten out. Amazing!

I am wary of reading biographies of favorite authors because I don't want to be disillusioned, but I was safe with this one. It was a gentle story of two elderly sisters, one of whom happened to be the author of one of the best known books in the world. There were no family secrets revealed, no interesting facts unearthed, nothing for either Harper or Alice Lee to be ashamed of seeing in print. The shame and disillusionment are on the side of the author, who had a great subject and didn't do it justice.
Profile Image for Gary.
327 reviews197 followers
August 20, 2014
If you are a fan of the novel TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, this is a must. I enjoyed it, but I felt the writing was a bit disjointed...that being said....it does provide a window into the lives of Nelle, her sister Alice, and her family, a window I enjoyed being able to peer into.... I will always love Nelle's novel,and that was a big reason why I wanted to read this memoir of the author's experiences being neighbors with the ladies.

Worth your time I'd say.....if you have not read the novel , or seen the movie, do both first before you read this book. This is definately a book for fans, in my estimation.

I've read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD many times in my life...thinking it's time to indulge again,and to see the film. Reading this book certainly nudges me in that direction,and for that, this book in itself, makes this a memoir to enjoy & a treasure to read.
Profile Image for Mary Jane.
147 reviews
February 23, 2014
This is Marja Mills' memoir of her time spent living next door to Alice and Nelle Harper Lee in the early 2000s. Ms. Mills was granted insight into the daily lives of Alice and Nelle; through this daily life with the Lee sisters, a wonderful and respectful story by Ms. Mills has given the world the long-awaited answers as to the real Harper Lee. Mills lived next door to these two sisters, joining them on outings to visit friends, almost daily talks over coffee, and tape recorded interviews with Alice. We learn much about two very strong women, ingrained with the moral conduct of their Southern upbringing, but experiencing life with an open mind (except when it comes to the electronic age of the 21st century!).
Profile Image for Claudia Mundell.
211 reviews2 followers
July 21, 2014
This was a pleasant summer read. I did not come across any profound new information about Harper Lee and the writing of To Kill a Mockingbird. However, I did come to know the eccentric writer, her sister, and her area of Alabama. The sister Alice was as interesting at the author Harper. Alice, a practicing lawyer in her 90s, was a unique woman all her lifetime. Who can't appreciate a woman who fills her house to the brim with books! Both women were readers, creative, and strong, principled individuals.

How the book's author, Marja Mills, came to live next door to the ladies is a story in itself.
Profile Image for Dawn Michelle.
2,331 reviews
October 7, 2020
What a lovely book. This is just what I needed right now.
Oh how I wish I could have known Nelle Harper; she sounds like she was an amazing human being. I am grateful that she shared a tiny piece of herself with "To Kill a Mockingbird". What a gift and blessing to us all.
Profile Image for Teresa.
661 reviews
March 11, 2016
I have mixed feelings about this book.

Harper Lee has written through her attorney that she did not authorize the publication of this book...twice. Once in 2011 and again the night before the book was to be released. I guess no book about or even written by Harper Lee other than "To Kill A Mockingbird" will escape controversy.

And, on the other hand, the narration is thoughtfully written. There is nothing harmful or adverse in the stories the author relates.

Marja Mills is a Chicago Tribune journalist who was given a one time assignment to head to Monroeville, Alabama and find out what she could about the elusive author. The assignment was prompted by the Mayor of Chicago's decision to select "To Kill A Mockingbird" as the reading selection for "One Chicago, One Book" in 2001. Marja heads to Alabama with a staff photographer and they begin to work. In her final days there, she goes to the Lee sister's home and Alice unexpectedly invites her in. A gradual friendship develops through correspondence and visits. In 2004, Marja is forced to take a medical leave of absence from work and travels to Monroeville renting the empty house next door to Harper Lee and her sister.

To me, this was a quiet story of how the unexpected renown of a much beloved book changed Nelle Harper Lee's life. As told by Marja, she did not enjoy the constant attention and fame that came with it. The requests for signatures, appearances, interviews, etc. never ceased. And, some used her kindness and generosity for strictly profit. There was a story of a local book store owner who sold signed copies on e-bay. When Nelle found out, she never signed for him again.

I knew very little about Harper Lee (Nelle's) life before reading this book. So, the information on her family history was interesting to me. Her mother and brother's deaths were certainly tragic. My father was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery and I lived there twice growing up. I understood Marja's discomfort at visiting Nelle & Alice in a house without air-conditioning in Alabama! I have never experienced such humidity as I did living in Montgomery. I loved the stories about the 3 sisters planning a vacation together each year. They reminded me of my mother and her two sisters.

I learned a little bit about her friendship with Gregory Peck and his family. I did not know that Peck's grandson is named Harper. Or, that Gregory Peck believed TKAM was his finest work.

It seems the price of fame can be a terrible thing. Not everyone is suited for it. I loved "To Kill A Mockingbird" and am one of the huge fans to have counted it as one of my favorite books of all time. I would have loved reading other books by Harper Lee. This book does make me think that the controversy surrounding "Go Set A Watchman" is justified. Marja said that Nelle was never the same after her stroke and move to assisted living. So, why only after Alice's death, who handled all of Nelle's affairs, does the attorney take over, find the manuscript and have it published? Nelle certainly deserved to live the life she wanted to. I'm not sure in her final days, she did.

Would I recommend this book? Yes. It's thought provoking if nothing else.
Profile Image for Cindy.
3 reviews2 followers
January 25, 2015
I seldom write reviews for books because others do it so much better than I could and say things I wouldn't have thought to articulate, until I usually just leave it to them. This book had such polar opposite reviews on it, I felt like I needed to wade in as a neutral party to try to decharge the review waters.

There seems to be an awful lot of folks real pissed off that this book isn't a tell-all, gossipy, reveal all the nitty-gritty skeletons, a complete and total expose on Harper Lee. There are also some people who gave it a bad review because Harper Lee allegedly released a statement saying it was unauthorized. I don't agree with either of the sentiments.

Y'all, this book is exactly what it claims to be. A memoir of a Yankee journalist who took up residence beside the Lees for about 2 years then wrote about what she learned from them. That's it in a nutshell. The book is written with very great respect to the author and her sister and there was ENTIRELY too much thought that went into the writing of this book for me to think for a second that it was unauthorized. I am MUCH more inclined to think that perhaps Nelle got mad one day and decided she didn't like her life being talked about in such detail and sent a press release to that end. She was mercurial and as private as Margaret Mitchell so it wouldn't surprise me in the least if she had a swing of thought one day. My great-grandparents lived and reared 5 children in the nearby town of Atmore, AL and I was born and raised in a small town in South Mississippi. I know how Southern women of Ms. Lee's generation and social class can be about their privacy which sometimes can border on paranoia. Talking about the intimate details of folks' lives in the paper is just Not Done and is Utterly Tacky.

As for the be-all, end-all Harper Lee biography some of y'all seem to think this was gonna be, I say, "Bless your hearts." This is about Harper Lee; exactly how much detail did you think anybody would be able to glean from a social recluse who surrounded herself with a trusted circle and no more than that? I mean, really? This ain't the print version of TMZ. Also, I have to give kudos for the respect of the author for Ms. Lee that is evident throughout this book and staying off the record with Nelle wanted her to do it. She has shown the quality that Alice found in her upon first acquaintance.

Overall, it was an enjoyable book that let me into the mind of a "foreigner" as she terms herself, who was seeing our part of the world with new eyes and learning the culture the best way I could think of doing it. Through a native who loved her hometown. If you'll go into this book with an open mind, you'll enjoy it.
Profile Image for Elvan.
644 reviews2 followers
November 8, 2014
What a strange biography/autobiography. I assumed it would be an in depth look at the reclusive Nelle Harper Lee. We readers would love to know more about an author who writes one of the best books of all time and then never publishes another novel. What were her influences? Who shaped her life?
To some degree we get answers. The incredible pressure to repeat the brilliance that is To Kill a Mockingbird kept her from publishing any other work. We've all seen JK Rowling struggle to find her way after Harry Potter.
Instant fame and no privacy for a very private woman is another understandable reason for Nelle Lee to stop granting interviews. Yes, her next door neighbour was Truman Capote and Harper Lee helped him research his book In Cold Blood out in Kansas.

I started reading this biography thinking I would gain insight into the elusive author. Instead, The Mockingbird Next Door reads like an autobiography of its author, Marja Mills. Sure we hear about every meal and coffee she shared with Nelle and her older sister Alice. We go to the duck pond with the sisters and go fishing with Harper and her friend and pastor Tom, but do we learn anything? Not really. Almost every fact tossed as infrequently as the shelled corn those ducks received can be found by googling the Wikipedia article on Nelle Harper Lee.
What we do learn is all about how Mills suffers from lupus, how she once thought of adopting a Chinese child and how she has boxes of interview notes and crates of audiocassette tapes from interviews with the Lee sisters and their friends and family. I suppose Mills thought her life was more interesting than the Lee's and embellished her story with anecdotes about meetings with the Lee sisters while she rented the house next door. Nothing of substance to be gained with this book.

Add in a strange way of ending chapters with no real summary, revelation or explanation and while entertaining in its odd way, this is not a book I can recommend.

Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,281 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.