cover image The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee

Marja Mills. Penguin Press, $29.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-59420-519-4

Former Chicago Tribune reporter and first-time author Mills befriended the famously private Lee sisters of Monroeville, Ala., back in 2001, and moved into the house next door in 2004. Initially on assignment from her newspaper to gather information on Harper Lee (known as Nelle), neither Mills nor her cameraman, Terrence James, had any illusions about succeeding where countless other journalists had failed. But they were charged with at least trying to make contact with the famously reclusive author of To Kill a Mockingbird. Here, Mills recounts the surprisingly easy and natural way she did indeed meet, first, older sister Alice, a still-practicing attorney in her 80s, and then Nelle, whose sharp, eccentric personality, keen opinions, and generous reminiscences make this a must-read for fans. Subjects covered include the tribulations attending a first-time novelist’s instant fame to Lee’s childhood friendship with Truman Capote. An atmospheric image of the South, then and now, emerges as Mills recounts daily life with the sisters, as well as time with Nelle in her longtime second home, New York City. While upfront about what few areas (mostly “to spare the feelings” of living persons) must remain off the record, Nelle’s sweet friendship with Mills elicits a forthcoming portrait of the author, her family, her time, and her South that is thoughtful, witty, and rich in feeling. Agent: Miriam Altshuler, Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency. (July)