Through a series of serendipitous events, the author (Marla Mills) befriends Harper Lee and her sister, Alice Lee. Marla eventually moves in next door to the Lees and begins to write about them. Alice and Harper Lee encourage Ms. Mills to write about her friendship and encourage her to contact and spend time getting to know their friends and relatives.
After the book The Mockingbird Next Door was published, Harper Lee strongly asserted that she did not cooperate with Ms. Mills and that furthermore, Ms. Mills took advantage of her elderly sister, Alice, in a duplicitous friendship to glean information about them for the book. Interestingly, Alice Lee publicly supported Ms. Mills and the story she wrote about their lives. Alice Lee's friends and family believe that it was actually Alice Lee who wanted stories about her famous sister and family to be told from her own memories while she was alive to remember and to tell them for historical accuracy. She was known to be concerned that her family's history might be inaccurately portrayed based on half-truths and lies after her death.
The Mockingbird Next Door is supposed to be a book about the day-to-day lives of the Lee sisters and their friendship with the author. Ms. Mills does write about their friends, their interests, their family and the friendship she had with them. Through her writing, I was also able to get a greater understanding about Harper Lee and reasons for her reclusiveness after she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.
But, in my opinion, the author errs when she veers from her premise that her book is one about her friendship with the Lees and that she had their tacit approval on everything she wrote in it. For example, there are several places in the book when Ms. Mills writes about gossip concerning the Lee family. If the Lee sisters didn't answer questions about it to her satisfaction, she tried using other sources to arrive at the truth of the matter. Since her secondary sources usually were unable to confirm or deny anything the Lees chose not to discuss with the author, the reader is left with the idea that there is some sort of vague truth in the gossip and rumors about members of the Lee family. Her friendship is not protective of the sisters.
Ms. Mills also writes about Harper Lee's extreme shyness and awkwardness in social situations. Her comments are not flattering and give an impression that Ms. Mills pities Harper for an inability to fit in and feel at ease at formal occasions. She writes more as an observer than a friend.
And finally, even though this book is supposed to be about friendship, Ms. Mills uses up quite a bit of the book to write and then write some more about herself. I learned about her experiences in journalism, her health scares, her lack of a true love and her hard work in writing The Mockingbird Next Door.
To me, it would have been a better book if Ms. Mills had spent more time collaborating with the Lee sisters on developing stories that they did want to share with her and to work harder at being a true friend to the Lee sisters instead of journalist who happened to live next door to them. The Mockingbird Next Door