John Grisham is one of my favorite living authors. He’s one of the few for whom I’ll take a two or three day break from other reading when I hear he’s come out with a new book. He doesn’t exactly qualify, to me, as brain candy, but he’s definitely a brain vacation.
Years ago I heard that he’d said in an interview that he tried never to write anything he’d be ashamed to have his children read. I respect and appreciate that. So, when I heard he would be publishing a novel for kids, I had to see how it came out. Would he maintain a high standard or lower his writing to the level of children (the current excuse for the vulgarity that passes for children’s books so often these days)?
Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer is the first in a series about a 13-year-old boy who wants to be a trial lawyer when he grows up. While he waits, he practices on his friends, dispensing legal advice and representing their pets in Kitty Court. Of course, because there must be something to write a story about, he inadvertently gets in over his head.
I’m not interested in doing a book report of this one. It’s a good story, but not deep or transformational. But here’s why I bothered to reread it for this review. For several years I read for a website that published book reviews to help parents make good choices for their children. I read a LOT of garbage. And noticed some disturbing trends.
- It seems that everyone wants to create the next great fantasy world, but so few have any idea what that would entail. For a while I felt, If I have to read about one more alternate universe, I’m just gonna __________ .
- For me, the poor abused orphan who doesn’t realize he’s the savior of the world has been so overused as to evoke nausea.
- So often, parents are out-of-touch, distant figures who are to be “got around” so the child can do the right thing. The parents will later see how wrong they were and all will be well.
- Children have the freedom to do incredibly un-childish things because the adults in their lives are disturbingly absent. Apparently their wisdom and abilities are inborn. Sadly, many children in the real world still have these talents nurtured out of them by meddling parents.
- It’s so not cool for the child protagonist to have an intact family.
Theodore Boone is just a normal kid. Or as normal as a kid can be who has practically been raised in a law office. He rides his bike everywhere, feeds his dog from the table, gets bored in school, has to be home for dinner and do his homework. He has not discovered any latent magical powers.
Theo knows who his parents are. They are still married to each other and happy to be so. Theo has a standing date to play golf with his dad every Saturday, they go to church on Sundays. Dinnertime is at the same time every day. The family serves together in a soup kitchen every week. Theo’s life is fairly regular and his parents know where he is most of the time. He chafes a bit at this because he’s 13, but he has great respect for his parents.
Not all is peachy. If it were, why bother to tell the story? Theo’s best friend is a girl he has known since they were four years old. Her parents are in the middle of a messy divorce. There is nothing Theo can do for her except to be her friend.
There is an important murder trial going on in town, which is terribly fascinating to Theo, but his involvement is completely accidental. He is torn over the right way to handle the information he’s come into because he made a promise not to reveal his source. But eventually it comes down to his having no choice but to tell his parents. And this is what I appreciate most about this story. He doesn’t sneak around behind his parents’ backs trying to handle something that is completely out of the league of a 13-year-old. At first, he goes to his black-sheep uncle, but even he decides that the best thing to do is for Theo to tell his parents and let them handle things.
I appreciate Grisham’s handling of young teens and his respect for the family. The story has plenty of excitement without vulgarity or gore. It can be done!