Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Theodore Boone: Young Lawyer by John Grisham

Please note: this is the US edition cover art.

In the small city of Strattenburg, there are many lawyers, and though he's only thirteen years old, Theo Boone thinks he's one of them. Theo knows every judge, policeman, court clerk - and a lot about the law. He dreams of being a great trial lawyer, of a life in the courtroom. But Theo finds himself in court much sooner than he expected. Because he knows so much - maybe too much - he is suddenly dragged into the middle of a sensational murder trial. A cold-blooded killer is about to go free, and only Theo knows the truth. The stakes are high, but Theo won't stop until justice is served.

Well, what do you know, John Grisham can write children's fiction. I'm not saying Theodore Boone is without flaws - there are a few - but, on the whole, it is entertaining with a tense finale.

The main flaw for me is the main character of Theo (don't call him Teddy!) He is a fantastically good kid - doesn't backchat his parents; straight A student at school; diligently visits the black sheep of the family, his uncle Ike, every Monday; helps out at the soup kitchen and teaches foreign students a better command of English. Basically, Theo is not the sort of kid that many children will be able to relate to, although hopefully they will aspire to be like him.

And certainly the plot is something that many children would want to be embroiled in - learning secrets that adults don't know, and becoming essential and important to events. Obviously most children won't think about this in terms of a murder trial, but this angle makes the tale rather unique. Anyone who has read and enjoyed Enid Blyton will understand the appeal of children being pitted against adults in adventurous situations.

One aspect of the writing I particularly enjoyed was the fact that Mr Grisham never talks down to his young audience, despite some of the legal concepts that might be slightly difficult for readers of the age that this book should be aimed towards (I imagine this as pre-teen reading - in fact, I anticipate my eleven year old nephew loving this book, and plan to lend it to him immediately!) In fact, exposition could have proved an issue, leading to conversations between two lawyers who both know about law but are explaining about concepts they know everything about simply for the reader. Grisham deals with this well, having Theo talk to his classmates about the ins and outs of a murder trial, in a scene that is both graceful and natural.

There was much to enjoy about this novel, including the fact that ideas such as "doing the right thing" and "honesty is the best policy" are conveyed without being bludgeoned home. There is also a decent few paragraphs on the evils of judging people:

" 'Those people' were the residents of Waverly Creek, a wealthy community built around a twenty-seven-hole golf course and protected by gates. They were the newer residents, as opposed to the more established ones who lived in the town proper and and considered themselves the real citizens of Strattenburg. The phrase 'They live out at "The Creek" was heard often and usually described people who added little to the community and were much too concerned with money. The divide made little sense to Theo. He had friends who lived out there. His parents had clients from Waverly Creek. It was only two miles east of the city, but it was often treated as if it belonged on another planet."

In fact, a fine novel that contained decent tension and some wonderful court scenes was weakened altogether by an ending that tailed off into nothing. I understand that this book is the opening to a series of books about Theo, Young Lawyer, but I could have done with an ending that packed more punch and rounded off the novel nicely.

This is a decent novel, with some strong characters and a decent plotline that carries the reader along. With some flaws that I'm sure can be ironed out in future novels about Theodore Boone, Grisham has started an exciting new series in the world of law (and *that* was a sentence I never expected to write!) Recommended for younger readers who have enjoyed Percy Jackson and Skulduggery Pleasant.