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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham

I’m always curious when a well-known author of books for “grown-ups” jumps into the world of young adult and children’s literature. Some have made the move smoothly (Hiaasen is one who comes to mind immediately). John Grisham makes the move with Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer. Is it a success?

Summary: Theodore Boone is an unusual thirteen year-old. An only child raised by parents who are both lawyers, his dream is to be a trial lawyer, arguing cases in the courtroom in front of judge & jury. He knows everyone at the courthouse, from judges to secretaries to bailiffs. And when anyone at his school has a problem, it’s Theo they come to for advice, be it a looming foreclosure on the family home or an escaped dog that’s been captured by animal control.

Theo’s quiet routine is disrupted by a big trial – the biggest in his town in decades. Mr. Duffy is accused of strangling his wife in their upscale home at a golf course. The prosecution’s evidence is iffy, there are no witnesses, and Duffy’s lawyer is good at what he does. Theo starts following the trial just to observe how such a big trial is handled, how the lawyers present their cases; things he will need for his future career. But the trial takes on a new aspect for Theo when a mystery witness comes to him for help. Can Theo protect the witness while also making sure a guilty man doesn’t get away with murder?

Review: My summary is much more exciting for me to read than the book itself was. It’s not that my summary is that amazing…the book simply failed to impress. Grisham tried to write in a way that included information about the legal system that was understandable to young readers; however there was still much that was either just boring (like Theo spouting statistics about the number of those accused of murder who actually plead guilty) or came across as somewhat condescending (like many of Theo’s explanations to peers throughout the story).

Theo's life is very good - unrealistically so.  His school is great, his classmates are smart ("It was a bright class in a strong public school" p. 25), his parents are understanding & civic minded (if a bit quirky), etc.  There are no bullies, no stressors - Theo only experiences trouble through the lives of others, like his friend April, whose parents are in the midst of a divorce.  It really seems a very picture-book sort of life, with parents who donate their time and money to the homeless and spend quality time with their son regularly. It makes it difficult to connect with Theo, but easy to be jealous of him.  It makes me wish that Grisham had written my childhood! (It would have been dull but comfortably happy).
What really bothered me when I finished the book however, was: (Spoilers Follow!)

1. The reader never really felt the pressure/danger to the “mystery witness.” Simply telling the reader that he was an illegal alien and was afraid of being deported was….boring. (Especially when so much more was eluded to within the story, but I’ll get to that next.) Yes, I know that is a very real fear for someone in that situation, but, as the reader, I didn’t feel that much concern for Bobby, the witness. He wasn’t really developed and it never felt to me like he was ever in any real danger. He was simply a plot device to get Theo involved in the case, not a person. But then, I didn’t get attached to any of the characters in the book, as it simply felt rushed to me.

2. There is a great villain introduced in the book who never gets to actually do anything villainous! Seriously, he’s introduced in a way that makes him seem shady, dangerous, and untrustworthy. He’s on the “wrong side” of the court case. But the worst thing he does is follow someone to see what they are up to. Very anticlimactic. Grisham should pick up some of Caroline B. Cooney’s or Gordon Korman’s books for young adults – they write comparable young adult books that truly build tension and make you care about the characters in a way that this book did not.

My final word: fine for a nice mindless read, but not what I expected from such a well-respected and touted author. I even looked to see if there is another book in the series coming out – maybe the story continues. And while there does seem to be another book coming out featuring Theo and his friends, it starts a whole new plotline, so no hope there for what this story needed – more development and more real action.

Doing what is right

Age Appropriateness:
Grades 4 & up

Areas of concern (content):
Foul Language: none
Nudity/Adult Content: none
Violence: very mild

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