I had the opportunity to read a digital-ARC of this book from NetGalley. It truly was a joy to read and I think this will be a very popular book this year. I was initially drawn to this title because of its description: a fictionalized account of Truman Capote's and Harper Lee's friendship during their childhood.
As children, these two famous writers lived next door to each other in Monroeville, Alabama . The story opens in 1930, at the beginning of the Great Depression, when Tru is seven and Nelle is six. These two are as different from each other as they could possibly be: Tru dresses in fancy outfits and is very delicate and Nelle is a tomboy who wears overalls and is very outspoken. But it is because of their differences that they become close friends; they are the only ones that understand and appreciate their unique qualities.
The character development in this book is awesome. G. Neri was able to take all that he learned from his research into the lives and works of these legendary writers and capture the most endearing and relatable qualities of these youngsters. Children reading this will be able to understand and appreciate these personalities as they just relax and enjoy the episodes in their story. Readers are able to follow a year in their lives as they splash around in the local swimming hole, curl up in their tree house and read Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and run around town playing detective to solve a break-in at the local drugstore.
The more time that these two characters spend together, the more they grow to care for each other. One of my favorite lines from the book is when Tru tells Nelle: "You and me, we're...apart from everybody else. Nobody gets me like you do."
Because the story is set in the Deep South during the Depression, the book also takes a hard look at the racial prejudice that was prevalent then. Tru and Nelle confront bigotry courageously as they stand up for their friend, Edison, when the local boys try to chase him away from the swimming hole because he is black. During their search for clues to find the culprit in a drugstore theft, they find themselves face-to-face with the local Ku Klux Klan in a frightening scene of cross burning and a chase. The confrontation with the KKK comes to a dramatic climax when Tru hosts a party and invites everyone, no matter what race they are.
The style of this book makes it so appealing to me. Neri very effectively captures the mood and feel of growing up in the South during the 1930s. Because it was the Depression, people didn't have a lot of money and children didn't have many fancy toys or entertainment. Tru and Nelle used their imagination to make their own entertainment, which makes the plot events of this book so much fun to read. And many of the scenes in the book actually remind me of the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer of the times in which this book is set.
This book also makes me want to know more about Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee. I've read Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, but I've never read any of Capote's work (although I have seen the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's a number of times). I didn't even realize that these two writers were friends as children. Now I want to check out Capote's In Cold Blood sometime. I love it when one book makes me want to learn more and read more.
I'll definitely want to have this book as part of my classroom library. Hopefully it'll spark the interest in my students to read more and write more. As the characters in the story receive an old typewriter and start writing stories, this could also be a terrific mentor text for budding young mystery writers.
Hardcover, 336 pages
Expected publication: March 1st 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers