• The Mockingbird Next Door

  • Life with Harper Lee
  • By: Marja Mills
  • Narrated by: Amy Lynn Stewart
  • Length: 8 hrs and 11 mins
  • 4.1 out of 5 stars (203 ratings)

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The Mockingbird Next Door

By: Marja Mills
Narrated by: Amy Lynn Stewart
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Publisher's Summary

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is one of the best-loved novels of the 20th century. But for the last 50 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 18 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.

©2014 Marja Mills (P)2014 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"There are many reasons to be grateful for The Mockingbird Next Door, Marja Mills’s wonderful memoir of Harper Lee and her sister.... Sympathetic and respectful it may be, but The Mockingbird Next Door is no sycophantic puff piece. It is a zesty account of two women living on their own terms yet always guided by the strong moral compass instilled in them by their father.... It is also an atmospheric tale of changing small-town America; of an unlikely, intergenerational friendship between the young author and her elderly subjects; of journalistic integrity; and of grace and fortitude.... Mills doesn’t avoid prickly issues, but she approaches them obliquely and accepts partial answers. Despite her enervating illness, Mills’s writing is energetic. The Mockingbird Next Door is warm yet wistful, a lament for the books Harper Lee never wrote. It ends on an elegiac note, since by the time Mills was able to complete it, the Lees were fading fast, in separate assisted-living facilities. The world she depicts is sadly gone, but - lucky for us - she caught it just in time." (Washington Post)

"A lot of people have a lot of ideas about what it means to be American, but here’s one more: To Kill a Mockingbird.... That fact alone makes The Mockingbird Next Door, a memoir by Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills about her friendship with the book’s author, Harper Lee, a valuable artifact. It’s also a thoughtful, sweet-tempered, witty piece of work.... The Mockingbird Next Door offers a winning, nuanced portrait. Indeed, given Lee’s deep privacy and advanced age, it seems unlikely we’ll ever have a better record of a remarkable American life." (USA Today)

"[Marja Mills] has written an intimate, moving book about a rare talent." (People)

What listeners say about The Mockingbird Next Door

Average Customer Ratings
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Story has nothing new to say about Harper Lee

Oddly enough, the question of whether Harper Lee or her sister Alice contributed to this book can be argued without a genuine resolution. They are elderly, but not all elderly people are incompetent. The question can be; could this author have gathered her stories about the sisters without ever having spoken with them, and she pretty much could have. Which does not say she didn't speak to them, about the article she wrote about encouraging everyone in Chicago to read the same book at the same time, To Kill a Mockingbird. Although this is a an interesting, well written discussion about the woman who wrote to Kill a Mockingbird and her hometown, there is nothing new here. The book is well written, interesting, if you are new to Harper Lee's history, but if Harper Lee says she did not agree or contribute to a book, there is every reason to believe her.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Okay, But Misleading Title

Is there anything you would change about this book?

A new title. No real insights into Harper Lee; more about her sister and day-to-day life in a small Southern town. Not crazy about the reader.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

The most interesting part was a few glimpses into Harper Lee's life, e.g. she doesn't have laundry facilities and home and uses a laundromat. Also, depiction of life among the seniors in flyover country. The least interesting? The depiction of life among the seniors in flyover country - eventually it got pretty repetitive and, at times, tedious.Harper Lee's older sister "Miss Alice," an attorney who practiced through her 90s and beyond, was much more interesting and forthcoming.

Did the narration match the pace of the story?

Unfortunately, yes.

What else would you have wanted to know about Marja Mills’s life?

Not a thing - except maybe why a woman in her 40s on medical disability leave for Lupus would even consider adopting a baby. A very brief passage in the book.

Any additional comments?

I have very mixed feelings about this book, although, despite the controversy, I have no doubt that Harper Lee and her sister did indeed know that she was writing it. In fact, that was part of the problem - no real insight or revelations out of respect for the subject(s). It was kind of interesting in terms of a glimpse of the down-to-earth life of Harper Lee and some of her background. But it would have made a better magazine feature than book. I also had some issues with the reader. Perhaps her Southern accents and "character" voices were authentic, but they sounded like exaggerations and got a little annoying.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Questionable

I don't know if I trust Marja. I heard the NPR interview and still was unsure about her ethics. The content was flat and I didn't like the "selfie" vibe I got from Marja.

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

A Charming Book

I found this to be a charming book and very readable book. No reporter has gotten close to the reclusive writer other than Maja Mills. In 2001 she flew to Monroeville Alabama to write about her for The Chicago Tribune. She told Alice about the Chicago library’s “One Book, One City” to celebrate the 41 anniversary of the publishing of “To Kill A Mockingbird”. To Mills surprise the sisters gave her a brief interview. Alice Finch Lee was born in 1911 and is the older sister. She is the measured steady one and is still a practicing attorney. Maja Mills had been diagnosed with Lupus in 2004 and was out on disability from The Chicago Tribune. Consequently, she moved to Monroeville, Alabama next door to the Lee sisters home. Mills states the move was with the permission of the Mills sister and with the understanding she was going to write a book. She entered easily into the world of the Lee’s and their friends. They all shared aching joints and free time to talk about books, local history, to go fishing and long car rides into the country. The book provides a rich sense of the daily texture of the Lee sister’s lives.

The author is respectful guest of the Lee sisters, so don’t expect insider gossip. Mills describes Nelle Harper Lee (born 1926) as a down-to-earth, self assured, spirited, spontaneous, quick-witted and passionate. She is also impatient and has a temper. The author repeatedly tells of what good company the Lee sisters are. When ask about the name Harper they explain the middle name Harper, was a tribute to the doctor who saved the life of Louise (the middle sister). Mills delves into Harper Lee’s relationship with Truman Capote, who appears as Dill Harris in “Too Kill A Mockingbird”. Truman lived with his aunt next door to the Lee’s a few years when they were all children.

The publisher delayed the publishing of the book because Harper Lee published a letter saying she did not participate in the book and did not authorize it. Alice Lee wrote a letter to the publisher saying both she and Harper Lee participated knowingly and willing in the book. So the publisher went ahead with the release of the book.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” was published in 1960, won the Pulitzer Prize and became a classic of American literature. It still sells some 750,000 copies annually and is now sold in e-book and audio format. Harper Lee stopped talking to the press in 1965.

I enjoyed the book and found it to a relaxing read. Amy Lynn Stewart did an excellent job narrating the book.


8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

SMALL TOWN SOUTH

A good account oh Nell Harper Lee and her older sister, Alice. Doesn't concentrate on the book as much asI had expected. Provides a good look at a small Southern town and the social arrangements that exist there.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Our Book Club Will Love This Book!

If you could sum up The Mockingbird Next Door in three words, what would they be?

I found myself loving Alice, the eldest sister of Harper Lee. Harper has her reasons for her wish and need for privacy. I can accept that and her reasons are none of our business and yet, she did reach out to this young woman and did share. I felt the sharing was warm and intimate. I did not feel it an invasion of privacy. I appreciated hearing the bits and pieces of their lives, their character and loves.

Living as a transplant to a small rural Southern town myself I did grow to understand things that eluded me such as our book club members clinging to the "home place". After listening to the book I now understand that it is an inner draw, a history, a belonging.

I feel richer for the book. I am glad I listened.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

I'm sure a great experience for the author

This story was interesting and I felt the author's enthusiasm for Nelle and Alice Lee. Learning more about the history of this family was great.

However, the narration wasn't my favorite. The woman had a nice voice but her delivery was a bit too "darling" for my taste.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

This Memoir Stands on its Own Merits

If you could sum up The Mockingbird Next Door in three words, what would they be?

Warm affectionate storytelling.

What other book might you compare The Mockingbird Next Door to and why?

I think this book is unique. It's in the style of "new journalism" which means it's journalistic non-fiction reporting but the journalist is also part of the story. It really works here.

What about Amy Lynn Stewart’s performance did you like?

She captures the tone of the author really well and her portrayal of Nelle Harper Lee and her sister Alice is believable.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

An elusive literary legend as next door neighbor.

Any additional comments?

The book stands on it's own merit. This is not a straight-up biography of Harper Lee. It's the author's personal memoir of the months and years she spent getting to know Nelle Harper Lee, her sister Alice, their close friends and the community of Monroeville, AL. There is important biographical information about the author of "To Kill a Mockingbird" but the book is so much more than that.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

The Mockingbird Next Door

So not waste you money or credits. This woman basically stalked Harper Lee and then wrote about it. Very uncool!

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

So interesting and fun getting to know Harper Lee!

The book more than met my expectations. The narrator really made the book come alive. I would highly recommend the audio version to anyone who decides to read the book. I'm sure the live narration made difference for me between 4 and 5 stars.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 02-13-16

I enjoyed this book very much.

I love To Kill A Micking Bird. This book was facinating to read. I have learned so much about Nel Harper and her life. A eeally lovely book.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Claire
  • 05-22-15

This is a lovely and interesting book...

I thought I'd enjoy it, but didn't realise I wouldn't be able to stop listening!

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • A C.
  • 05-12-15

Warm and engaging

I really enjoyed this. Maria Mills manages to capture something of the essence of 'To Kill A Mockingbird' in her account of meeting and befriending the Lee's. I found the book warm and fascinating.

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  • Kerrie Bartholomew
  • 10-18-20

I loved the story and thought the narrator excellent! Made book even more enjoyable...

I loved the story and thought the narrator excellent! Made the book even more enjoyable...