âThe Mockingbird Next Door, a memoir by Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills about her friendship with the book’s author, Harper Lee, [is] a valuable artifact. It’s also a thoughtful, sweet-tempered, witty piece of workâŚ.The Mockingbird Next Door offers a winning, nuanced portrait. Indeed, given Lee’s deep privacy and advanced age, it seems unlikely we’ll ever have a better record of a remarkable American life.âÂ âUSA Today
“There are many reasons to be grateful forÂ The Mockingbird Next Door, Marja Millsâs wonderful memoir of Harper Lee and her sisterâŚ.Sympathetic and respectful it may be, butÂ The Mockingbird Next DoorÂ is no sycophantic puff piece. It is a zesty account of two women living on their own terms yet always guided by the strong moral compass instilled in them by their fatherâŚ. It is also an atmospheric tale of changing small-town America; of an unlikely, intergenerational friendship between the young author and her elderly subjects; of journalistic integrity; and of grace and fortitudeâŚ. Mills doesnât avoid prickly issues, but she approaches them obliquely and accepts partial answers. Despite her enervating illness, Millsâs writing is energetic.Â The Mockingbird Next DoorÂ is warm yet wistful, a lament for the books Harper Lee never wrote. It ends on an elegiac note, since by the time Mills was able to complete it, the Lees were fading fast, in separate assisted-living facilities. The world she depicts is sadly gone, butâlucky for usâshe caught it just in time.âÂ âWashington Post
âA rare, surprising, and respectful look at the Lees and their milieu.âÂ âBoston Globe
â[Marja Mills] has written an intimate, moving book about a rare talent.âÂ âPeople
âCharming . . .Â The Mockingbird Next DoorÂ offers a rich sense of the daily texture of the Lee sistersâ lives . . . The world that Mills was invited into over a decade ago has disappeared: both Alice (now 102) and Harper Lee (now 88) are in nursing homes, memories faded. Fortunately, in Mills, the sisters found a genteel family chronicler knocking at their door at the eleventh hour.âÂ âNPR “Fresh Air,” Maureen Corrigan
“Mills has done what no writer before her could: She got Harper Lee to open up about her life, her work, and why she never wrote another book.âÂ âO, The Oprah Magazine
âIn telling their story inÂ The Mockingbird Next Door, Mills writes with the amazement of one who feels kissed by fate. We in turn are blessed with an intimate portrait of Lee.âÂ âElle
âHot Type: The Mockingbird Sings: More important than these answers, however, is the voice of Lee herselfâand her message, which we still need to hear.âÂ âVanity Fair
âItâs a testament to one-timeÂ Chicago TribuneÂ reporter Millsâ skillâand being in the right place at the right timeâthat she befriended Lee and her lawyer sister, Alice, in the authorâs hometown of Monroeville, Ala., and was chosen to set the record straight on Lee. A wonderful, insightful and long overdue tale about the author of one of the greatest American novels.”Â âNew York Post
âReadingÂ The Mockingbird Next DoorÂ is like opening a window into Harper Leeâs private world. As the window closes on the last page, weâre left with nostalgia for one of literatureâs greatest talents and the feeling we had the very first time we read her remarkable novel.âÂ âSouthern Living
âAnother real discovery âŚ This intrepid journalist âŚ learned more about the stories behindÂ To Kill a MockingbirdÂ and Harper Lee than anyone Â before, after or since.âÂ âOWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network
âThis glimpse of a rare bird is delightful.âÂ âGood Housekeeping
â[Mills is] a skilled writer and storytellerâŚThe Mockingbird Next Door has a near perfect combination of story and fact.âÂ âGarden and Gun
âMarja Millsâ engrossingÂ first bookâŚis an extraordinary account of roughly a decade in theÂ day-to-day life of the reclusive writer behind one of Americaâs seminal texts:Â To Kill a MockingbirdâŚ.The result is a gentle read, best enjoyed over a mint julep, say, or some sort of sipping drink, that sheds some necessary light on a persistent literary mysteryâŚ.ThisÂ one-of-a-kind workÂ may stand as the closest thing to an autobiography that weâre getting.âÂ âFlavorwire
âA winning and affectionate accountâŚ..Â The Mockingbird Next DoorÂ offers a tender look at one of our most beloved and enigmatic writers, as well as the town that inspired her.âÂ âBookpage
âAs she portrays the exceptional Lee women and their modest, slow-paced world with awed precision, Mills creates a uniquely intimate, ruminative, and gently illuminating biographical memoir.âÂ âBooklist (starred)
âA must-read for fansâŚthoughtful, witty, and rich in feeling.âÂ âPublishers WeeklyÂ (boxed)Â
âIn her first book, a journalist offers a gentle, loving portrait of a reclusive writerâŚ. Mills portrays Nelle as a grown-up Scout, the feisty and defiant heroine ofÂ MockingbirdâŚ. [A] charming portrait of a small Southern town and its most famous resident.â âKirkus Reviews
âYou might come toÂ The Mockingbird Next DoorÂ to find out why Harper Lee never wrote another novel. But youâll stay with it for its lush evocation of the South, and for the insight into what made this reclusive author the person she became. In these pages, youâll see the book-crowded house where Harper Lee lives with her sister, Alice. Youâll go along on outings, sit in living rooms and at restaurant tables with the Lees, read faxes they and the author send back and forth, and appreciate the small and not-so-small revelations they offer: life when they were growing up with their father, who was the model for Atticus Finch; how reading sustains a person for a lifetime, how deeply embedded values donât change just because the times do, why itâs a good idea to regularly count the ducks you feed. I suppose we all thrill to the notion of learning personal things about a deeply private but world-famous person. What we donât necessarily expect to see is how gently, respectfully and, above all, naturally it can be done. While I appreciated getting to see and hear the ârealâ Harper Lee, I enjoyed as well the chance to meet Marja Mills, the woman who did what no one before her had because of her guileless trustworthiness, kindness, and care.âÂ âElizabeth Berg,Â New York TimesÂ bestselling author ofÂ Open HouseÂ
âInÂ The Mockingbird Next Door, Marja Mills offers readers a rare gift, the opportunity to know an American icon. We all know that Harper Lee made a singular impact on American culture and letters with her classicÂ To Kill a Mockingbird. But, we have never had the opportunity to know the great lady herself. Iâm so glad that she and her sister Alice Lee decided to open up their world to Mills. I promise that the real Harper Lee is more than worth the wait, and Alice Lee emerges as a fascinating character in her own right. Mills was lucky enough to be invited into the lives of the Lee sisters, and itâs a treat for all of us to join her there.âÂ âAndrew Carroll,Â New York TimesÂ bestselling author ofÂ War Letters
One morning, Nelle and I went for breakfast at Wandaâs Kountry Kitchen.
âItâs not fancy. But itâs good food. More orÂ less.â Nelle gave a wry smile. âYouâve discoveredÂ Monroevilleâs dining options are limited?â
Cigarette smoke and the din of regular customersÂ at their usual tables greeted us. We slid intoÂ a red vinyl booth along the far wall as our waitressÂ appeared.
âHi, hon,â Nelle said.
âHow yâall doing this morning?â
âPlease,â Nelle said.
Nelle barely glanced at the menu.
âIâll have two eggs, over easyâ she said. âAnd aÂ side of sausage. And a biscuit.â
Nelle smiled at me. âHave you had sawmillÂ gravy?â
âNo, I havenât.â Sawmill gravy. I should knowÂ what this was.
âYouâre in for a treat.â
Nelle dug into her own biscuit and eggs withÂ gusto. Iâd read so much about her reserve. But inÂ person, her heartiness was appealing: her relishÂ of the food and coffee, that big laugh, her obviousÂ affection for her older sister, Alice. It was easy to enjoyÂ her company.
A few days later, I felt a particularly bad lupusÂ flare come over me, which meant a trip to the localÂ emergency room. When I came to, the nurse thereÂ was starting an IV. I heard a familiar voice.
âChild, what have you done to yourself?Â Heavens.â Nelle had materialized by the gurney.
She gave me a quick hug and then stood back,Â taking the measure of how I looked.
Knowing how the Lees felt about journalists, I hadÂ taken extra care not to impose on their time andÂ goodwill. Instead, I was in a hospital gown, embarrassedÂ Nelle had taken the time to drive to the emergencyÂ room.
âYouâre so kind to come out here. But, really,Â this is just standard stuff. Iâve dealt with it before.â
Nelle looked at me skeptically and then glancedÂ at the nursesâ desk. She lowered her voice and leanedÂ in closer. âIf anyone asks, Iâm your mother-in-law.Â Otherwise they wonât let me stay back here with you.Â Only relatives. Rules.â Nelle spat out the last word.
On the mend in Chicago a week later, I faxed theÂ Lees about the article I was writing. Nelle responded with great warmth and concern for my recovery from “the viciousness of lupus.” I almost blushed when she described me as “a most remarkable young lady.”
She consented to her photographâs runningÂ with my story (if I made it âQuaker plainâ that sheÂ declined to comment) and then went on to opineÂ about the state of journalism and its general declineÂ over the course of her decades in the public eye.