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30-Second Review: ‘The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee’

How a Tribune reporter’s attempt to interview Harper Lee led to an unlikely friendship with the legendary author and her sister.

Photo: Courtesy of publisher

In 2001, Tribune reporter and River North resident Marja Mills traveled to Alabama in search of the notoriously private Harper Lee, who wrote the classic 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee refused to be interviewed. But their meeting led, improbably, to a years-long friendship between Mills, Lee, and Lee’s eldest sister, Alice, a centenarian lawyer who’s been called “Atticus Finch in a skirt.” Welcomed into the sisters’ small-town world, Mills ended up living nearby and started taking notes for a book.

Her memoir of that time, The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee (Penguin Press, $30), out July 15, provides some revealing anecdotes, such as when Mills watches the film Capote with Lee, who calls it “historical fiction.” Relayed in unfailingly wide-eyed prose, these vignettes struggle to cohere to form a satisfying narrative. But Mills succeeds in making a literary enigma a bit less of one.

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