Tru and Nelle and Tru and Nelle: A Christmas Tale, both written by G. Neri and illustrated by Sarah Watts, are about the childhood and teenage friendships of Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Nelle Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird). When interviewed as to why he wrote the refreshing novels, Neri said he “used their (Capote and Lee’s) childhood friendship in Monroeville, Alabama as fodder for (his) fiction.” The author continued, “I was intrigued that no one had ever written about that friendship, especially for young people.” (Neri, interviewed in “Taking with G. Neri” / Books and Writers (magazine)
Neri recommends the first novel, Tru and Nelle for second through sixth graders and T and N: A Christmas Story for middle school students. At the end of the first book, Tru leaves Monroeville where he had spent the summer with his aunt for New York City to live with his mother and stepfather. The second novel begins with Tru running away from a military school his mother had placed him in as an attempt to “man him up,” and he heads to Monroeville. There he is awaited by Nelle and Big Boy, the notorious detective story enthusiasts and “agents” from childhood who are now growing into their pre-teen and teenage years. The setting is 1930’s Monroeville, home of the Jim Crow laws, the Klu Klux Klan and Southern Injustice. All characters, events, and places are “drawn from real life,” characters and events. Beginning with Tru’s Aunt’s house burning to the ground, leaving the family homeless at Christmas, an event Nelle’s father feels he is responsible for, the tale is described as “speculative fiction in search of poetic truth.” Both books are funny, sad, touching and well-researched.
The first book is deliberately reminiscent of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and the second deals with teenage angst, search for sexual identity, and zaniness of the teen years. Both are excellent books.