Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Grisham, John. Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer. Dutton Children’s Books, 2010. 263 pages. ISBN 13: 978-0-525-42384-3. This book is for grades 4 and up, or ages 9 and up, depending on reading level (3 stars out of 4).

I am always happy to see adult authors cross over into YA literature. Although success is not automatic any time an author chooses a new venue or genre, more established authors like Francine Prose, Carl Hiassen, and in this case, John Grisham, risk less than others because their name recognition helps to sell books. I admit that the main reason I picked up Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer is because John Grisham is the author. Mr. Grisham is the king of the American legal thriller, and although I do not read much popular fiction due to time constraints, I confess to being up until 3:45 am on a school night many years ago reading The Firm until my eyes blurred, dying to know how it ends. Not since the Dan Brown phenomenon have I felt that kind of excitement about a bestseller. Although his first foray into YA is not perfect, Mr. Grisham does a capable job of making the intricacies and intimacies of the legal world refreshingly understandable and sensible.

Theo Boone is only 13, but he already feels he is at the top of his game. His only desire in life is to become a trial attorney, and he knows every lawyer, judge, and police officer in town. Theo also dispenses legal advice like Encyclopedia Brown, and he is a good resource to have if your sister or dad get into a little trouble. However, when the biggest murder case in 50 years engulfs the town, Theo inadvertently gets involved when a friend, the relative of an illegal immigrant, reveals that he may have previously unknown information relevant to the case. Theo may be in over his head when he is sworn to secrecy but desperately feels the need to see justice served: “How could it be that he, Theodore Boone, knew the truth about the Duffy murder . . . The town’s biggest crime since something bad happened back in the 1950s, and he, Theo, was suddenly in the middle of it” (119). Theo must seek help from normally unreliable sources, most specifically his estranged and mysteriously disgraced Uncle Ike, and he is desperate to find a way to keep his word and ensure that a guilty man does not walk free. However, the menacing Omar Cheepe, working for the defense, seems to be lurking around every corner, spying on Theo and everyone else.

John Grisham has a way of making the law come alive. In his nimble hands, the legal system is an orderly, logical, time-honored system that usually dispenses justice. I admire and appreciate Mr. Grisham for bringing that gift to YA literature; I am confident that legal hounds of all ages will appreciate the style in which Mr. Grisham personalizes and simplifies the law. I love that element of this novel, almost certainly the first in a series. However, there is a down side to the protagonist. Theo Boone is a great kid. He’s the judge’s favorite, he’s the teacher’s favorite, he’s the secretary’s favorite, and since he is an only child, he is his parents’ favorite. Although it’s great to be a great kid, the bar seems to be set a bit high in Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer (all puns intended!). Perfect heroes who always feel the pressure of their futures bearing down on them place too much pressure on students just learning how to perform well. I regret that Theo Boone has to overachieve so much, has to work so hard at being liked, has to try so hard to be accepted, all so that he does not lose himself. His parents are successful attorneys, so his desire to pursue that profession is unsurprising. But Theo is driven by other desires and motivations, and I would feel better if Mr. Grisham took more time in this first novel to fill in his protagonist a little more. What, I wondered throughout the novel, is the side of Theo he does not show to his family, friends, and mentors? However, despite Theo’s imperfections, I enjoyed Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer. It moves quickly enough, the action is satisfying, and the characters are likable. With healthy and clear explanations of basic law and courtroom protocol and concepts, it will bring the legal system to life for many young people, and our students deserve the right to understand the basics of the law; we all need it sooner or later.

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