Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tru and Nelle: A Christmas Tale by G. Neri

 It's very true I haven't read much children's fiction this year. I saw this book and, knowing a little bit about Truman Capote and Harper Lee's childhood friendship, I thought this would be a good read to include in my Christmas picks for December.  It is the continuation of Tru and Nelle, but you don't need to read that in order to enjoy this tale.  

I read the author's note after finishing the book, and learned that most of the people in this novel were actual real-life folks in Truman and Nelle's lives. Set in 1935, just a few days before Christmas, Tru is a runaway, hitching a ride on a train from his military school in New York to Monroeville, Alabama.  He had moved to New York with his mother and step-father, preferring the bright lights of New York City.  But once his mother was granted full custody after a bitter divorce, Truman finds out he's in the way, and shipped off to a military school where he doesn't fit in at all.  He decides he can't take it anymore and hops a train, getting back to his friend Nelle and his family:  Jenny, Big Boy, and Sookie.  He's welcomed back with open arms, but isn't there very long before bad things start to happen around Tru.  Suddenly homeless, his family ends up staying with Big Boy's family on their farm for Christmas.  A mysterious murder happens, and Nelle--trying to be helpful for her father, A.C., ends up creating a disaster when she notices two black men hanging around near the murder scene.  

While Christmas is approaching quickly, Tru and Nelle are struggling to find the meaning of Christmas, and the hope for justice to be served after it becomes quite clear the two men are not guilty of anything but being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But the South in 1935 is no place for justice when it comes to race, and A.C. has his one and only criminal case in Monroeville, defending the two men.  

Through all of this turmoil, Tru and Nelle are rediscovering their friendship, evolving in their love of storytelling, and struggling with their identities--neither one is a typical tween and they don't fit in anywhere.  But Christmas has a special pull, and the love of family and friends means a lot in a time of despair and racial injustice.  

I really did enjoy this novel.  I thought it was a good balance between what the climate was like for 1935 Southern America--so many people with nothing, the KKK, racial tensions; but still that important pull of family and sticking together. Of being a good neighbor, of taking that one extra step to help, be kind, and understanding.  Tru and Nelle's struggle to move their relationship from a childhood friendship to a young adult friendship is something most of us have had to go through with dear friends we've know for a long time.  And justice.  As A.C. tells Nelle, sometimes the most important thing we can do is to be a witness to events, even when we can't do anything to prevent the outcome.  

This is a young reader novel, but very suitable for adults and teens, too.  Truman Capote's memoir A Christmas Memory is still available in bookstores and libraries.  

Rating:  4/6 for a novel about Truman Capote and Harper Lee's childhood friendship, and one special Christmas.  

Available in hardcover and ebook. 

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