'The Mockingbird Next Door' is by Marja Mills.

'The Mockingbird Next Door,' a portrait of author Harper Lee, garners critical praise

The story of how journalist Marja Mills came to know the 'To Kill A Mockingbird' writer Lee is being called 'witty' and 'charming.'

There are few American novels as beloved as Harper Lee’s 1960 book “To Kill A Mockingbird,” which follows a young girl named Scout, living in 1930s Alabama, whose father, lawyer Atticus Finch, defends an African-American man against accusations of rape.

So Marja Mills’s book “The Mockingbird Next Door,” which chronicles the Chicago Tribune journalist’s acquaintance with Lee, was bound to attract at least interest, since Lee often turns down media interviews. But Mills's book, which will be released on July 15, has also received many positive reviews so far.

Both the Monitor and Amazon placed the book on “best of July” lists, with our staff calling the book “an affectionate portrait … of one of the least known yet most beloved of all American authors.” Meanwhile, Amazon editorial director Sara Nelson called it is “a very gentle, lovely book.” 

Meanwhile, USA Today writer Charles Finch helped explain readers’ great interest in the story of the journalist who moved in next door to Lee. “Anyone who's been an eighth-grader in this country since 1960, millions upon millions of us, probably remembers reading at least some of the story,” he wrote. “There is almost nothing – much less another work of art – that so many of us have in common.”

Finch called the book “ a thoughtful, sweet-tempered, witty piece of work … a winning, nuanced portrait.” 

Kirkus Reviews found the book to be “gentle [and] loving … [a] charming portrait,” while Library Journal writer Maggie Knapp of Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, Tex. called the book “highly readable.”

And Washington Post reporter Heller McAlpin wrote that the book is “sympathetic and respectful…. [B]ut [it] is no sycophantic puff piece." She also called the book, "warm yet wistful.”

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