The Mockingbird Next Door is a charming look into the life of celebrated and notoriously reclusive author Harper Lee. Truthfully, it is an account of both Harper Lee and her fiercely protective older sister, Alice Lee. Alice and Nelle, as Ms. Lee is known locally, gave reporter Marja Mills an extraordinary look into their lives. Mills' feat is unprecedented and likely the last true glimpse that will ever be granted into the lives of one of the world's best-known authors.
The Mockingbird Next Door doesn't read like a typical biography. It isn't a tell-all intended to shock and wow. It is a slow boil, with Mills slowly becoming a part of the Lee sisters' lives and showing the world that although their lives are simple, they are remarkable. The attention to details makes this such a personal journey. Mills' struggle with illness doesn't detract from the story, but adds the possibility of narrating an additional layer of compassion many of us would have found unexpected from Nelle. Being a resident of Monroeville makes this a surreal read. You never know how your world looks to an outsider, but The Mockingbird Next Door opens up Monroe County as it is. Mills shows the world that there isn't one truly astonishing aspect that makes Monroeville special, but rather several smaller elements.
Alice Lee and Nelle both agree that truth is stranger than fiction, and as Nelle puts it, "always a better story." The conversational tone of this book makes it an easy, enjoyable read. No fuss, no frills, just as the Lee sisters live. It's interesting to learn more about the people that have been welcomed into Nelle's life. Mills also captures a side of Nelle that the world doesn't know. Nelle's zest for life and her quick wit are at odds with the hermitic nature portrayed by the media for years. The Mockingbird Next Door features several new photographs taken during the initial interview Mills was granted for the Chicago Tribune, as well as personal pictures of the Lee sisters, friends, and relatives.
- Additional Information
Paperback Large Print Hardcover ISBN 0143127667 EAN Target Group 18 & Up Publisher Penguin Press Publish Date May 5, 2015 Copyright Date Jan 1, 1970 Binding Hardcover 1410469743 18 & Up Penguin Press Jul 16, 2014 Jul 16, 2014 Hardcover 1594205191 9781594205194 18 & Up Penguin Press Jul 15, 2014 Jan 1, 1970 Hardcover
Customer Reviews 3 item(s)
- The Woman Behind the Legend
The Mockingbird Next Door, by Marja Mills, is a rare gift—a glimpse into the lives of Alice and Harper Lee. Nelle Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, is a very private person. After winning the Pulitzer Prize for her novel in 1961, she shied away from the spotlight, refusing almost all interview requests and turning away reporters left and right.
Reporter Marja Mills achieved the seemingly impossible. She obtained the sisters’ permission to live next door, to spend time with them, to write down their stories and spend time in their community, talking to their friends and family. Alice and Harper wanted to set the record straight, about their mother, about the authorship of To Kill a Mockingbird, and about countless other topics that reporters have gotten wrong in the past.
To Kill a Mockingbird is beloved by many, and its elusive author is just as fascinating, complex and honest as her novel. What makes The Mockingbird Next Door a treasure is Mills’ kindness. She cares about the Lee sisters, about Monroeville, about getting their story straight and keeping those elements private that they don’t want to discuss on the public forum.
Mills forged a genuine bond with Alice and Harper Lee, just a few years before both women ended up in Assisted Living Facilities, and before Alice passed away. She got the story down before it was too late, and she did it with humanity, honesty and kindness. The Mockingbird Next Door is definitely a must-read.
- The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills Review
Sufficed to say, I am a huge fan of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. My oldest daughter’s name is Scout. I read the book at age ten, when I was completely oblivious of the lure of boys, much less the thought of children, but the character imprinted me in an indescribable way, and from the time I started dreaming of the daughter I would one day have, I knew her name would be Scout. I know that I am not alone in this rite. An American classic novel, TKAM has spawned countless children, cats, and dogs who proudly carry the monikers, Scout, Atticus, and Harper. The Pulitzer Prize winning novel has shaped the minds and hearts of readers worldwide.
Now, imagine that the literary idol responsible for all this lives in your small, Alabama hometown. TKAM has always found its way into classrooms across America, be it north, south, east or west, but here in Monroe County, Alabama, it was woven into the very fabric of our everyday lives. Scout, Atticus, and Tom Robinson were not just characters, there were akin to neighbors, family, members of our community.
Everyone has them. Great novels that you read as a child/adolescent. They change us in ways that readings later in life cannot. They become a part of the people we grow up to be. TKAM was the first book to teach me that villains don’t always wear masks or the faces of monsters. Sometimes, they are neighbors, friends of the family, ordinary people. And the same for heroes. A little girl with the courage to stand up for what is right trumps capes and superpowers any day of the week.
I met her once, without even realizing it. This woman who inspired my imagination and my humanity. I was working in the local jewelry store, and she came in to have the battery in her watch changed, and her watch cleaned. She smiled as I greeted her, and after I filled out the tag with “Nelle Lee,” she thanked me, and walked out the door. One of my older coworkers asked, “Do you know who that was?” I shook my head. “Harper Lee.” My world tilted on its axis a little bit. I had just interacted with one of my literary idols without even knowing it. I wasn’t working the day she came back in to pick up her watch. Initially disappointed, I came to realize that it was probably better than way. I feared my ability to contain my excitement and the gravity that her presence conveyed to me, would tarnish our pleasant rapport with attention the private author would bristle at garnering.
All that brings me to The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills. When stumbling upon the publication of the book, I bought it immediately. But, between four children and long hours at work, it was given priority stacking on my ever growing To Be Read pile. When my small hometown was set abuzz with the news of the upcoming release of a recently discovered “lost work” of Harper Lee, Go Set A Watchman, I picked up TMND, and wanted to kick myself for not having enjoyed this novel sooner.
As all lovers of TKAM, and certainly those residing here in Monroeville, we find ourselves terminally curious about the reclusive author. But the regard in which I hold her novel, is the same pedestal of respect that on which I place the author. At twenty, I gleamed the sanctity of enjoying an interaction with my favorite author that afforded her the anonymity she preferred to cloak herself with. And as hotly as the questions about the novel and the author herself burned inside me, it would be a boon, ill gotten, if it was obtained at the sacrifice of the author’s wishes.
I started the novel with zeal, and as my loyalty to Nelle Harper Lee mandated, an appropriate amount of skepticism about the author’s motivation for the novel coinciding with the wishes of the subject of her novel. Thirty pages in, I no longer had any worries. Marja Mills is indeed the “contradiction” of a “class act journalist” that Harper Lee deemed her to be. Otherwise, she’d never have been trusted with the history of the Mockingbird next door. I didn’t not feel like a voyeur peering into the life of a literary master, but as if Mills folded me into this social gathering of people to listen to their stories. I felt like a kid propped up on my grandmother’s kitchen counter, listening to her tell me each ingredient and step involved in making her famed sour cream pound cake. And so Mills gave us the recipe for extraordinary, yet down to earth lives of the Lee sisters.
This novel was a joyful and captivating read for me. It would be for any Harper Lee fan, but each turn of the story that involved a person that I know or a place that I had been, whether once or frequently, made me feel that much more part of the story, and connected to Harper Lee in a ‘six degrees of separation’ kind of way. Mills conveys the details of their lives in a way that even learning unexpected things come across in a sentiment that this is the way it is supposed to be. And I am always grateful and thankful when the positive aspects and histories of the state of Alabama can be brought to the forefront for the world to see. Goodness knows, we do a good enough job spotlighting our own faults.
One of the things I loved about TMND was that it gave me an outside perspective on Harper Lee, the phenomenon of TKAM, and the real life Maycomb County that I reside in. I drank in the fresh perspective of someone who did not grow up living and breathing the world of Atticus Finch, and how it affected them. It warmed my heart that a ‘yankee’ (*winks*) could find simple beauty in a rural world vastly different from her own.
Mills captures perfectly the ebb and flow of small town Alabama life, and how it changed from the alien to the familiar to her. I found her chronicle of these bright women both respectful and natural. And just as I imagined the eclectic world of the Lee sisters to be.
Marja Mills has my gratitude that her genuine nature was able to shine through that fateful Alabama afternoon, when a great lawyer and a great author opened their door and their lives to her that we are all the better for gleaming life lessons from two exceptional women, years in the courtroom, and great American novel aside.
- Wonderful tales of a National Treasure
The Mockingbird Next Door was a lovely weekend read, and quite enjoyable. I’ve always been a Harper Lee fan, and this book is a refreshing and unique perspective on the life of the reclusive author, as told by a woman that was sent to do a job and somehow became a part of the famous writer’s daily life.
Not only did this book offer up some insight into the iconic writer’s life and her relationships with friends and family, but it also transported me back to a simpler time in my own life as so much of what Marja Mills speaks of in this book is the comforting character of small town, not-quite-Old-South life to which I assume many of her readers will relate. Monroeville, Alabama, is the place on which Lee based her fictional Maycomb, and for while, Marja Mills made it home, gleaning what she could from Lee and her sister Alice, in an effort first to write an article and later to record the charming stories of the Lee sisters’ lives and to set the record straight on a few memories they felt rumors had tarnished.
If you love Harper Lee, as so many of us do, this is a book that you should read. I can almost promise you’ll be soothed by its simply paced flow and wonderful tales of a national treasure. The perfect way to end a week, take a break, and think a little more about just where that instant classic, beloved by all of America, came from.