Putting down To Kill a Mockingbird, I immediately missed Scout Finch and the lure of her quirky, self-contained small town in the South. So, I curled up and cracked open Tru and Nelle (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) (Amazon), the youth chapter book by G Neri that fictionalizes the real-life, childhood friendship of Harper Lee and Truman Capote—the original models for Scout Finch and Dill Harris. I was hoping to be re-acquainted with southern lure, and was charmed right away.
The book opens in the small town of Monroeville, Alabama where the sheriff, the wise father, the troublemakers, and a motherly elder cousin all have their roles (not unlike in Maycomb county). The stars, recognizably similar to Scout and Dill, are a neglected odd-ball of a boy visiting Monroeville on extended vacation, and a feisty tomboy of a girl with a big heart. When the two of them quickly forge a sincere friendship out of mutual quirkiness, and a love of books (particularly, Sherlock Holmes), there is no stopping the duo from poking their heads into every adventure they can find, and, in the process, exposing the best and the worst of their neighbors. Along the way, they learn a few lessons of their own about the responsibility and healing nature of friendship. This summer fling, along with their teamwork in sleuthing, would be the start of many years of friendship to come, including a joint-effort in solving the mystery that became In Cold Blood.
This is a simple story that will appeal to nostalgia, and has the perfect mix of historicity and fiction to annoy those who want their facts set straight, yet succeeds in making any reader curious to know more. Especially if they enjoy historical fiction, younger readers who have yet to dip into To Kill A Mockingbird will still be captivated by the story’s mystery, and relate to themes of feeling like the odd one out, bullying, and the joys of best friends. G. Neri encourages the gift of individuality, and extending friendship to those others might reject. Hopefully this book will serve as his introduction to grade-schoolers, encouraging them to look forward to reading the classics when they mature.
The final pages include miniature episodes of the real childhood escapades of Tru and Nelle, as if penned in their own hands, just like the emerging writers they were. It also includes a summary of what became of the two friends after Tru was moved to New York to live with his step-father, and as they grew into adults. This was my first introduction to Lee and Capote’s relationship, as well as to how connected Lee’s characters are to her own experiences. It is these personal tidbits that, for me, bring characters to life.
[Advanced reading copy of Tru and Nelle courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishing]