Tru & Nelle by Greg Neri is a middle grade novel about celebrated American authors, Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee, when they were children and best friends growing up in the small Alabama town of Monroeville during the early 1930s. I was aware of Capote and Lee’s association as adults living in New York City, but was amazed to learn that the writers had been childhood friends. From a young age, Truman and Nelle were making up stories. If you’ve ever wondered where greatness begins, Tru & Nelle provides a peek at the early personalities of these prodigious talents and shares some of the character-molding experiences that informed their writing.
The story follows fashionable and refined seven-year-old Truman and rough-and-tumble six-year-old Nelle, from their first encounter through various escapades while seeking enigmatic happenings like the ones in their favorite Sherlock Holmes adventures. Suspense and intrigue were hard to find in sleepy Monroeville, but Truman and Nelle knew all they had to do was wait, and eventually, a first-class whodunit would turn up.
Equally precocious, Truman and Nelle know the pain of growing up with an absent parent. Nelle’s father provides stability during the long absences of her mother who suffers from mental illness. Truman’s rascal of a father and self involved mother uproot him from New Orleans, and deposit him in Monroeville to stay with his adult cousins, eccentric siblings who live together in the family home. The two misfits forge a friendship based on empathy and love of books.
From their tree house headquarters, Nelle, Truman, and his young cousin, Big Boy, read, discuss literature, and ponder the connection between two cases of local vandalism, and a mysterious snake pit. Add in a cast of characters including Truman’s big-boned African-American cook named Lil Bit, a bully called Boss, and Catfish, his Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon dad.
Tru & Nelle is inspired by true stories from the memoirs of Capote’s cousin and aunt. Some of the capers are far-fetched, but in his author’s notes Neri states, “the more outrageous and unbelievable a scene, the closer it is to real life.” Neri’s voice has just the right amount of old fashioned elegance and southern charm to capture the time, place, and spirit of the tale. Characters Scout, Dill, and Jem, in Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, are based on Nelle, Truman, and Big Boy, aka, Jennings Carter. Middle graders and adults will love this book. Learn more about author Greg Neri at: http://www.gregneri.com.