by John Grisham
263 pages, Dutton Children’s Books
Review by Melissa Conway
I’ve been a fan of John Grisham since The Firm. He’s one of the few mainstream authors that can consistently capture and hold my attention through his believable characters and tight plotting. This book is his first young adult novel, and it’s pure Grisham.
Theo’s parents are both attorneys, so it’s no wonder he dreams of being a big trial lawyer some day. Mom’s a divorce lawyer who helps women in need and dad’s a boring real estate lawyer. The family is squeaky clean. It was refreshing to read a story where both parents are not only alive, but are good influences on their kid. Uncle Ike is the bad one; the alcoholic black sheep with a shady past. Ike had also been a lawyer once upon a time, but he’d done something so unforgivable, he got kicked off the bar and Theo’s dad hasn’t spoken to him in years. Mom makes Theo visit once a week, though, a chore that Theo, good son that he is, dutifully accomplishes.
Theo’s been hanging around the courthouse so long he knows everyone from the bailiffs to the judges. He also knows more about how the legal system works than most adults. That’s why the kids at his school come to him for help when they need legal advice, a happenstance that occurs quite a lot in this plot. So much so that even the kids he tutors at the local women’s shelter (that his mom helped establish) know about his rep.
There’s a big murder trial going on, and Theo’s eager to watch and learn. Right off the bat it looks like the prosecutor is outgunned by the defense and the guy everyone in town thinks killed his wife is probably going to get off. But there’s a secret witness, a young Hispanic man who’s too scared to talk to the authorities because of his illegal status. Enter Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer. Theo’s the only one who knows, and keeping the secret is getting harder by the day as the end of the trial nears. The only other person Theo can trust is the one person he’s not supposed to: his uncle Ike.
There’s a lot to recommend in this book insofar as its positive influence over young readers (without being too preachy, but with rather a dousing of political-correctness). Besides getting a decent story, as a bonus, young readers are provided painless lessons about the legal system. The character of Theo is easy to like even though he’s a bit of a know-it-all when it comes to the law. At age 13, he’s got the run of the town, and it seems he’s late hitting that awkward hormonal stage, so for the most part, he obeys his parents. He’s had a strong moral upbringing and it shows in his actions.
The one criticism I have for the book is that it ends incredibly abruptly. I’ve read plenty of series’ that leave you hanging—that’s no biggie. This book just leaves off right in the middle of a scene, with no indication (other than the fact that the reader is running out of pages) that it’s about to end. As if Grisham wrote the story as a one-off and the editor said, “Hey, you know what? This book is rather long for a young adult, let’s just cut it off riiiiiiiight—here—exactly in half! And make it a series!” But it’s a minor point that doesn’t detract from a good book.