Welcome to another Write a Review Wednesday, a meme started by Tara Lazar as a way to show support to authors of kids literature. Last week we reviewed Emily’s First Day of School published by Sterling Press. This week I had a chance to read John Grisham‘s new middle grade book Theodore Boone. Kid Lawyer (age 8-12), from Penguin Group (Canada). I have to thank Vimala at Penguin for my review copy.
Theodore (Theo) Boone lives in the small city of Strattenburg with his two busy lawyer parents. Although Theo himself isn’t a lawyer, the bright thirteen-year old plays the part well. He knows every lawyer, police officer and clerk and a fair amount about the law and in his make-shift office located at the back of the families law offices, Theo offers up free legal advice to his friends.
One such consultation, with a scared illegal, sheds light on a murder trail happening right in the city of Strattenburg. Theo is presented with some evidence that could stop a cold-hearted killer from going free. But getting it heard before the trial ends could prove a challenge.
The idea of a court room drama for kids is intriguing but the execution I’m not too sure. I’m a big John Grisham fan so I was really excited to read his new book, to see how he would transition over to a middle grade audience. Before reading I mistakenly had the stories like Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew hovering in the back of my mind but in hindsight those stories were more detective oriented.
I liked the idea of Theo helping his friends with legal advice and I could see how in a small city, with lawyer parents, friends would look to him for his knowledge, but the rest of Theo’s character seems to be a bit of s stretch; he was perfect. This made him flat and boring (not to mention unrealistic).
Grisham did a good job explaining legal jargon in a language kids would understand and picking up some information on how the court systems operate might be interesting to some. I did find myself sometimes struggling to keep in the middle-grade mindset though, swaying from an adult reading a Grisham book back to a pre-teen reading a mystery. I started to read the story out loud to my kids and my eight-year old was intrigued with Theo and his role in law, but as the story got bogged down in legal terms and non-action scenes, she started to lose interest.
The story did pick-up a bit at the end as you’re not sure if the criminal on trial will get away with his crime or if Theo will find away to make justice prevail.
One of my biggest problems with the book is that this smart, independent boy, who’s been working this whole case in the background on his own, has to not only go to an adult for help but ends up sitting on the sidelines while the adults try to fix everything. This was such a disappointment. Why couldn’t there have been a way for Theo to solve things on this own, like his character has up to this point?
But things aren’t all bad. One of my favourite parts of the book, a part I’m sure many won’t like, is how the book ends. Without giving too much away, the ending isn’t what you expect. Actually that’s not true. It’s something you might expect from John Grisham. Things aren’t wrapped up as neat and tidy as some might like but I prefer it that way. I think it also adds some realism in the case, showing that sometimes the good guys don’t win, completely. How kids might react to this, I don’t know.
The ending also reads as though there could be a series planned for Theodore Boone, Kid Detective. If so, I hope Theo doesn’t have to take a backseat again. A hero who isn’t much of a hero is a hard book to swallow.
You can visit the website www.theodoreboone.com for information on the book, learn a little more about the law and see a video interview with John Grisham about writing Theodore Boone, Kid Detective. My favourite part was the crazy laws that actually stand in the United States at the moment.
You can add Theodore Boone, Kid Detective to your own library by visiting you independent book seller or Penguin Group (Canada). For other book recommendations for kids, read through the past Write a Review Wednesday posts. If you have a book I should consider for review, email me at cabadov(at)hotmail(dot)com.