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The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  7,368 ratings  ·  1,263 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 278 pages
Published July 15th 2014 by Penguin Press
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Julia Schult I read this book all the way through for a book club (discussion tomorrow). I enjoyed the content, but the writing annoyed me constantly. Don't get me…moreI read this book all the way through for a book club (discussion tomorrow). I enjoyed the content, but the writing annoyed me constantly. Don't get me wrong, I am very glad Marja wrote the book, but it lacked narrative flow, meaning paragraphs, chapters, and anecdotes jumped around in time, which was jarring. Let's see if I can describe what I mean...

Miss Mills would start with a quote or statement about something or someone. Then the next sentence would jump to something else that seems unrelated. Then she'd explain how the second thing relates to Nelle Harper or the book, then we'd find out how the quote or statement came about.

So basically, the book is a rambling, descriptive book about Marja Mills' relationship with two remarkable sisters, one of whom is famous and doesn't like to be written about. I am not surprised that listening to the book was more pleasant than reading it; the jumping around, seemingly random style is more suited to spoken English than written. Hearing it in a slow, Southern accent would evoke the feel of the life Miss Mills portrays.(less)
Melissa Hi Jean, my immediate response is YES! I got the impression Nelle knew she was writing a book and later Nelle did go on to deny encouraging it. I thin…moreHi Jean, my immediate response is YES! I got the impression Nelle knew she was writing a book and later Nelle did go on to deny encouraging it. I think Nelle was ultimately just trying to protect herself. I didn't like all the details Marja gave about the streets and what you passed on the left and right going here and there. I looked up some of the places she mentioned and she didn't change the names of them. I completely understand that if someone were to go there now looking for Nelle, they would not find her since she's in a rest home but I just thought it was an invasion of her privacy and the town's as well. All of her descriptions of everything made me feel as if she was trying to prove she was there and did everything she said but she didn't publish any pictures of herself with either one of the sisters, nor did she share any pictures of any of the faxes she received over the years (I can't believe she wouldn't have kept every one of them!). I believe her story, but maybe Nelle did run from her as she claims when asked about the book, maybe after a few months of this girl hanging around next door.

I looked at the author's website and it doesn't say anything about her continuing communication or visits with Nelle since the book. The website shows she is doing a few signings this year in IL and AZ. It would be great to get to ask her in person!(less)

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Aug 01, 2014 rated it did not like it
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 wa
Deborah Markus
Sep 10, 2014 rated it did not like it
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 w
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 Med
Jul 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Diane S ☔
Jun 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
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
Oct 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jul 15, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
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
Kristen Hooper
Jul 15, 2014 rated it did not like it
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.
Bob Varettoni
Jul 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 sol ...more
Jul 15, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: avoid
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
Jan 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 teac
Larry Bassett
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 ...more
Angie Hulse
Jul 12, 2014 rated it did not like it
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. ...more
Jul 17, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Brittain *Needs a Nap and a Drink*
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 s
Elisha (lishie)
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Book Concierge
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 rec
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 controv
Diane Barnes
Jul 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Aug 19, 2014 rated it liked it
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 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
Mary Jane
Feb 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Dawn Michelle
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.
Feb 20, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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 jour
Claudia Mundell
Jul 21, 2014 rated it liked it
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 indiv ...more
Jul 16, 2014 rated it did not like it

Harper Lee did not authorize this book and twice has tried to stop it from being published.

The author is a liar.
Jan 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 a
Jul 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
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 a
Jul 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Four and one half stars.

I was very excited when I read advance press for this book. On the day it was released Harper Lee released a statement denying any involvement in the book. I was so disappointed. I had hoped that Lee had finally collaborated with someone to get her story out.

Then I began reading, and I finally understand Nelle Harper Lee and her change of heart about this book. Marja Mills has treated her subjects, both Nell and her sister Alice and the for that matter the whole Lee clan
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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

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97 likes · 16 comments
“You know that African proverb ‘When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground’? When Alice dies,” Tom said, “it will be like a library burning.” 2 likes
“Nelle clarified her feelings then. As far as she was concerned, Truman lied about people and belittled them as a way of life and he didn’t care whom he hurt. “Truman was a psychopath, honey.” That stopped me short. Nelle used language precisely. She wasn’t just tossing out the word like kids on a playground do, calling one another “psycho.” “You mean in the clinical sense?” I asked. “If I understand the meaning of the term,” she answered. “He thought the rules that apply to everybody else didn’t apply to him.” 1 likes
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