Tru & Nelle by G. Neri

I’m really excited to share G. Neri‘s middle grades title Tru & Nelle (out this month from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers) with you today. A lover of works by Truman Capote (whom my grandfather knew by the way) and Harper Lee, I really enjoyed this fictional tale about the real friendship of these amazing authors. Tru & Nelle does a fantastic job of setting the stage for the writers these two became.

Set against the economic, racial, and social contexts of the Great Depression era, Tru & Nelle presents two characters who are nonconformists of sorts. Tru and Nelle bond over their love of mysteries, thrilling action, and storytelling in the small town of Monroeville, Alabama. Developed out of love of words, Tru and Nelle’s friendship takes them to all sort of places – from trials to crime scene investigations to Halloween parties. Nelle’s father A.C., a lawyer, gives them a typewriter in an important scene that prefigures each of the main character’s writing futures.

I love what G. Neri does in this book! Readers who are familiar with Capote and Lee  – or will be introduced to their texts in the future – will enjoy this fictional account of their friendship. The blend of true and embellished details make this middle grades read spectacular. Neri reveals how the need to tell and write stories developed in each of these children. And, as you all know, I just LOVE books about writing (see my reviews of Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, Engle’s The Wild Book, Meyer’s Diary of a Wairests, and Draper’s Stella by Starlight). But Neri’s book is about more than friendship and writing. There are powerful issues of gender, justice, and race to discuss, issues that also weave through Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. But a book about the power of storytelling would fall short unless its author showcased his own powerful writing style. Luckily, Neri’s prose is sprinkled with beautifully poetic lines, such as “Dusk settled in and the fireflies soon sprinkled the backyard with stardust” (p. 250). Just lovely! A perfect stand-alone text, Tru & Nelle can also help introduce middle grade students to themes they will see in To Kill a Mockingbird. I would have loved to have read this book with my eight graders before we studied Lee’s text.

Here are some teaching ideas for Tru & Nelle:

(1) I really like the idea of having students explore their writing identities. Neri does such a fabulous job in Tru & Nelle with helping readers see what inspired Truman Capote and Harper Lee. After students trace some of the moments in which Neri sets the foundations for Capote and Lee’s writing futures, they can create a list of all of their adventures and life moments that could inspire stories. This would be a great exercise for students’ writing journals. They can return to these lists during writing workshop.

(2) I also think having students read this book before To Kill a Mockingbird or at the same time (what a wonderful way to differentiate book titles and have students understand similar themes) is a great way to connect contemporary middle grades texts with canonical texts.

Let me know what you think of Tru & Nelle in the comments below!

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