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, April 18, 2012

Grisham, John. Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer: The Abduction. Dutton Children’s Books, 2011. 217 pages. ISBN 13: 978-0-525-42557-1. This book is appropriate for grades 4 and up, or ages 9 and older, depending on reading level and interests (2 1/2 stars out of 4).

I still remember my excitement while I read The Firm by the once ubiquitous legal thriller author extraordinaire, John Grisham. I was working at B. Dalton Booksellers and substitute teaching 20 years ago while traversing the alternate route in secondary English. I read that copy all day and night; I stayed up until 3:45 am to find out what happened to the main characters and I survived at work the next day fueled solely by my amazement at the twists and turns of the story (and some mediocre Moorestown Mall food court fare). I was genuinely excited when I heard that John Grisham would be publishing YA books. Since I read mostly YA literature these days, I hadn’t revisited Mr. Grisham’s work until the first Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer novel last year, and frankly, I was not blown away. I found the story slow, and although Mr. Grisham was informative concerning the legal process, he could have added more suspense and action. The second installment of the series, The Abduction, promised to be more exciting, considering that Theodore’s best friend, April Finnemore, is kidnapped. Although I invite you to judge for yourself, I do not believe Mr. Grisham has found his YA voice yet. Mr. Grisham’s treatment of the material is ponderous and plodding, like the last season of a long-running show in which most of the conflict is gone (like M*A*S*H or Happy Days) or a poorly acted movie-of-the-week mystery.
The normally quiet town of Strattenburg gets turned upside down after the abduction of April Finnemore, Theodore Boone’s best friend. To save her, Theo will need his renowned legal knowledge and acumen teamed with an intensity heightened by fear for his best friend and plenty of help from his friends. Despite his parents’ concerns, Theo embarks on a mission to find the kidnapper and to rescue April. The number one suspect is escaped convict Jack Leeper, who was a pen pal to April while in prison and was spotted at a local convenience store around the time of the abduction. Theo, however, has doubts about that scenario, asking more questions about his mysterious friend from a dysfunctional home than he has answers for: “Theo knew April well, but he also realized there were many things about her he didn’t know. Nor did he want to. Was it possible that she would run away without a word to him? Slowly, he had begun to believe the answer was yes” (43). With unexpected but desperately needed help from his discredited, hippie lawyer Uncle Ike, Theo is more determined than ever to uncover the truth and return his friend, safe and secure, to the friendly confines of Strattenburg.
Once again, similar to my reaction to Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, I like the plot and idea of The Abduction, but I am unhappy with the slow pace. Once again, Mr. Grisham has bestowed adult sensibilities upon his kids and his interpretation of kid sensibilities upon his adults, resulting in an informative but uneven and unexciting mystery adventure. The ending is just as anti-climactic as the first book’s ending and just as disappointing. I am not saying that future attorneys or Law and Order fanatics will not find this book valuable and engaging, and I have students who said they liked the first book, but I want more from the author who made my heart skip 20 years ago; I want to have to stay up late to find out what happened, not fall asleep before finishing the penultimate chapter. Unfortunately, Mr. Grisham may not have the touch he had in the 1990s, and he may not impress his audience with this latest effort; tweeners are not particularly forgiving or patient readers.

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