by John Grisham
Dutton, 2010. 263 pgs. Fiction.
John Grisham's highly-anticipated "thriller" for kids is interesting and well-written, but not as thrilling as one might have expected. Theodore Boone is the only child of lawyer parents. His mother is a divorce lawyer and his father is a real estate lawyer, his Uncle Ike is a disbarred lawyer, and Theodore wants to be a trial lawyer. From this platform, Grisham launches a tutorial for his young readers about how the law works. Because Theo is pals with the judge, he wangles good seats for his Government class at once-in-a-lifetime murder trial at the Strattenburg courthouse. Although most everyone thinks Mr. Duffy is guilty of killing his wife, the state's case is circumstantial and it looks like the husband will walk. But Theo, a paragon of a boy who tutors a Latino boy at the homeless shelter, finds out from Julio that his cousin who works at the golf course saw Duffy enter the house at the time of the murder and leave quickly afterwards to continue his solitary game. He also found a pair of Duffy's discarded golf gloves in a trash bin on the course. Problem is, Julio's cousin is undocumented and will not come forward to nail the crimer. How Theo manages to keep his word to keep this man's secret, and at the same time make it possible for justice to be done, is the burden of Grisham's story and it has some refreshing components, particularly that Theo figures out that he will have to tell as much as he honorably can to the adults in his life and get some help with this problem. Along the way, Theo uses his knowledge of the law to aid various classmates, supporting one whose parents are divorcing, and advising one whose brother is arrested for drug possession, and one whose father lost his job and is about to lose his house. Hence, Grisham's tutorial: kids who read this book will have a solid grounding in legal knowledge (although he glosses over the golf gloves/chain-of-evidence problem that even a cursory acquaintance with Law and Order would make plain--ha ha). In terms of rising action, the slope is shallow here, and rather than climax and denouement, this book coasts to an end. But Grisham's prose is compelling, Theodore and his family and friends are engaging characters, and the villainous Omar Cheepe is menacing enough in a limited role. One hopes that Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer is meant to be the first in a series because if it is, Grisham has set the table well, and there should be fine dining ahead.