John Grisham’s Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer

Grisham’s first book for kids is the story of amiable thirteen-year old Theo who loves the law, haunts the courthouse, and helps his classmates and friends with their own legal troubles, say a looming foreclosure, a nasty divorce, or a runaway dog. He lives in a generic-sounding city with pleasant lawyer parents and goes to the gentlest middle school ever.  And someone in this very nice situation is about to get away with murder.

Sounds promising, doesn’t it?  And for kids who are as interested as Theo in the law and the details of criminal trials I think it might work, but others may find all the exposition about trials and the legal system with little action to balance it very draggy.  Not to mention awfully adult-centered. While there are a few moments involving Theo’s classmates, say that runaway dog and another’s horrible custody situation, the central story is about a murder trial involving adults, a seventeen-year old potential witness with a secret that keeps him afraid to come forward, and a bunch of adult secondary characters — Theo’s parents, his uncle, the judge, his teacher, various courthouse and law office workers, and so on.

While I have no doubt some kids will stick with this to see how Theo manages to see that justice is served, I’m guessing others will not want to plod through all the endless telling.  Not to mention that Theo just doesn’t really feel like a contemporary thirteen-year old in a 2010 situation.  Hardly anyone in his school or grade has a cell phone?  Please.  He can’t do sports because of asthma?  If it is that serious (rather than a clumsy way to make him free after school) then shouldn’t he be carrying an inhaler and having attacks now and then?  I’ve students with asthma, but it never keeps them from doing sports.

And what about the sex?  (Got you there, didn’t I?) Early on Grisham writes that Theo doesn’t know a “single thirteen-year-old boy who admitted to having a girlfriend. Just the opposite. They wanted nothing to do with them. And the girls felt the same way. Theo had been warned that things would change, and dramatically, but that seemed unlikely.” What the …? This wasn’t true in my day and I’m OLDER than Grisham.  And then later in the book we get a teeny little sidestory about the most popular girl in the eighth grade and how cute she is, how she loves to flirt, her A and B lists, and so on. She is dropped in and then out again, but clearly Theo has some feelings, clean ones of course, when it suits the storyteller.  Lame, lame, lame.

Then there is poor April whose awful parents are in a custody battle over her. She disappears for long periods and her storyline feels very forced — just a way, it seems, to throw a female into the mix. I mean, she doesn’t DO anything except worry and such.  Couldn’t she at least be Theo’s sidekick?  Oh, I forgot, he’s got his dog Judge for that.  Or maybe his grungy uncle Ike is meant to fulfill that role? Certainly, he helps Theo save the day in the end.

A few of the many other things that bugged me:

  • The family watching Perry Mason reruns (reruns? reruns? what kid today calls them reruns) at 7PM once a week. Huh?
  • The scary-possibly-bad-guy named Omar Cheepe — must you use the foreign-sounding-name card in 2010?
  • The still-getting-comfortable-with-English character from El Salvador saying things like, “He ventured over in one of the utility carts…”

My verdict: unfortunately dull.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “John Grisham’s Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer

  1. Is Perry Mason even in reruns anywhere? Seriously? I have cable and I’ve never seen it – not on TV Land or TBS or USA or any other channel that runs reruns (as opposed to CSI and Law & Order which are everywhere). And why on earth Perry Mason? What a decidedly odd choice of legal drama and certainly seems like one the author wanted and not what the characters would have chosen…..

  2. Joyce Lansky

    Grisham writes wonderful adult novels, but obviously hasn’t been around kids. So many folks have the wrong attitude that “writing for children is easy.” The verdict is in! The world needs to give those of us who write for children more respect.

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  4. As you may know, Monica, I really liked the book. Primarily I reviewed it for myself, so it’s the adult who enjoyed it rather than saying it’s perfect for children. Although I feel it will suit a lot of children, a lot more than you think. I labelled it an aspie book, and I suspect a lot of the appeal is in that. It’s safe. It’s different. Not everyone wants or needs the adults to be got rid of to make fiction work.
    Perry mason reruns may not exist. But it’s fiction.
    Getting the language problems wrong for non-native speakers is a perennial thing in books and in films.

  5. Colleen, I agree about old Perry. At least Grisham could have said that he was an old favorite of the parents and that they watched them on DVDs.

    Joyce, years ago I read and quite enjoyed some of Grisham’s adult works so was hopeful that he’d pull one of off for kids. But if he wants to give Rowling a run for her money he needs to put in …er… some running. More action, at any rate, for the average kid reader, I’d say.

    Anne, perhaps you are right. We have a Law class in my school that the kids love, but they are very active in it — arguing, doing mock trials, and such. School’s out so I can’t get one of them to read this to see if I’m wrong, if this would hold their attention.

  6. Dry, dry, dry. I read this one, too, and thought it really missed the mark. Theo seems like a little old man, and the plot IS very adult-centered, with lots of exposition. I liked the premise at first, but it seemed to be difficult to pull off when all was said and done. Maybe Grisham will be able to pick up the pace in Book Two. (I reviewed TB at Book Aunt recently.)

  7. uma

    Theo seems like a little old man,

    Yes he does. I’m good with chunks of narrative and there are plenty of middle grade novels that use it well (showing and telling) but this one dragged for me.

  8. Dull, maybe, but amusing to watch kid customers try to convince their parents that yes, this John Grisham book is for kids. (I eventually jump in.)

  9. Joy

    That’s a shame, but I’m glad to find this review. I was thinking of buying this for my 10 year old, but I’ll probably pass or pick it up at the library at some point just to test the waters. Thanks.

  10. Thanks for the review. Will certainly steer clear. I know this isn’t the salient pointl, but I had to ask: what do kids say instead of ‘reruns’?

  11. Janice E. Bojda

    I can’t say it is on the schedule currently, but at least in the last few years, Perry Mason was on MEtv, where one can see the likes of the Partridge Family and Lost in Space.

    Not that this is meant to convince anyone that Grisham’s book is good, mind you.

  12. I purchased this after an adult requested it – I happened to be working the adult ref desk, and when I told her “I’m the one who orders children’s fiction,” it was news to her that it’s supposed to be a kids’ book! Makes me wonder how many of the 72 people who have it on hold think the same thing!

    On the Perry Mason question – I think of those being rerun at noon, but it’s been years since I noticed it on.

  13. I wonder if there is a difference between US readers and others? Found a blog review yesterday that was in favour of the book, and it set me thinking that maybe it’s us Europeans who romanticise the setting and the lives Theodore and his family lead.

    A bit like Americans do about cute English settings.

  14. st oliver

    My eleven year old picked it up tonight and fell asleep half way through in bed…dad this is fantastic…im sold

  15. Katie

    So disappointing and not believable!

    I’m with you on the “doesn’t know of any 13 year old boy who likes girls front.” Even sooner after that statement he runs into the lady at the courthouse who files things and talks about having a crush on her-Perfect Karen or something like that.

  16. Sue

    Yes Perry Mason retuns do exist and I watch them–I also thoroughly enjoyed the book even though I am not a kid. I am also waiting for the next book to come out. And by the way it seems that a lot of adults give kids very little credit for what they will like or understand.

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