Tru and Nelle by G. Neri. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, 336 pages
Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 8-10
Recommended for: ages 8-12
Bottom Line: Based on the childhood friendship of Harper Lee and Truman Capote, this middle-grade novel highlights the experiences that shaped an American classic.
Tru (short for Truman) is a fussy little clothes-horse and Nelle is a tomboy—all they have in common are problematic parents and imagination. This plays out over the long Alabama summer in lavish storytelling and real-life adventures, especially when the pair play Sherlock and Watson to solve a burglary at the local pharmacy. Small-town hijinks mingle with white-robed menace as the Klan makes an appearance, but Tru’s own parents are a greater threat to the boy’s well-being. It’s because of their fecklessness that he’s growing up in Monroeville with four distant cousins, all of whom are old enough to be his grandparents. As for Nelle, her father, A. C. Lee, is a paragon but everybody knows her mother has some mental problems.
Literature lovers will have realized by now that these kids are none other than Nelle Harper Lee and her childhood best-buddy, Truman Persons (later Capote). Most of the plot is made up of incidents from their memoirs; as the author notes, the more outlandish the episode, the more likely to be true. Mockingbird fans will pick up many similarities between Monroeville and Maycomb, including iconic characters like Atticus Finch and Boo Radley. The story is episodic rather than linear, and it meanders to a bittersweet end. Or not really—five short stories string Tru and Nelle out to the last long summer day.
Caution: Supernatural (the family cook, Little Bit, practices voodoo); Character Issues (Tru’s “stretchers” are more like outright lies)
Overall Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)
Categories: Middle Grades, Historical Fiction, Life Issues