Picks and Pans Review: Nora, Nora

updated 07/31/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/31/2000 01:00AM

by Anne Rivers Siddons

Perennial bestselling author Siddons (The House Next Door, Up Island) borrows a few notions from Harper Lee's classic tale about race in a small town, To Kill a Mockingbird, for this coming-of-age tale set in the segregated South of the early 1960s. A sensitive tomboy, 12-year-old Peyton McKenzie (think Scout Finch), lives with her courageous father, Frazier (a lawyer and widower, just like Atticus Finch, the character played by Gregory Peck in the film version of Mockingbird), and their knowing housekeeper Clothilde. Growing up in quaint Lytton, Ga., Peyton spends much of her free time with the "Losers Club," which comprises ornery Ernie Longworth, a 34-year-old church sexton and cemetery caretaker, and 8-year-old Boot, Clothilde's clubfooted grandson. Yet with adolescence looming, Peyton, whose mother died in childbirth, feels increasingly self-conscious and in need of some womanly guidance. When 29-year-old hellcat cousin Nora arrives from Key West to fulfill this role—in a pink Thunderbird coupe, no less—Siddons's story takes wing. Under Nora's unconventional tutelage, Peyton participates in a lunch-counter sit-in, learns to apply lipstick and begins to come to grips with her burgeoning maturity.

Siddons, a Georgia native, has touched on racial themes before; 1976's Heartbreak Hotel—also about a young woman's growing self-awareness—revisits the summer of '56 in Alabama, when Elvis Presley's hit record was on everyone's lips. And Nora, Nora, like Heartbreak, paints a too-simple picture of the social reality of the civil rights revolution. Siddons shies away from conclusions about racism here, except to say that it's bad, instead focusing on the more palatable tale of a girl's journey to womanhood. Though Harper Lee devotees may be dismayed, Siddons's fans are likely to be satisfied that she has again delivered a cozy read. (HarperCollins, $25)

Bottom Line: Mockingbird lite

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