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John Grisham is one of the biggest selling authors in the world following a huge number of crime novels over the years but he has now decided to try a new style for a new market in that he is writing for a young adult market but does it work?
This book sees Theodore Boone who is a 13 year old from a family of lawyers with both his mother and father actively practicing lawyers who run their own firm. Since he was young Theo has felt he wanted to be a lawyer and prides himself on his knowledge of the law and the help he can provide those in need of legal advice but when Theo is drawn into a major murder trial that he can play a part in how much can a 13 year old really take on their shoulders before it becomes too much?
This is a well thought out story which I found flowed really well with characters who were able to be both likeable and unlikeable which enabled for me to be drawn in to the story as I began to feel an affinity for some of the main players in the events unfolding. This is a new venture for John Grisham in that he is aiming for a young adult market but having read his previous crime novels I have found this to be another great work that is suitable for adult readers as it does not suffer for being able to be read by younger readers.
Theo is a likeable character who I look forward to reading more adventures from.
The main thing you need to take into account with this book, and preferably before starting to read it, is that it's John Grisham's first foray into the realm of Young Adult literature. I think if you have this in mind when you're reading it then you can appreciate the style and focus of the book moreso than if you go into it expecting another usual Grisham thriller. My problem was that this is exactly what I thought - the tagline 'half the man, twice the lawyer' and the image of a teenager walking up the steps to a courthouse not really giving me any clues.
The book starts off solidly enough, with the familiar writing style filling in a few loose details as he goes about introducing first the main character, Theo Boone, and then the plot. Theo is a 13 year old boy whose parents are both lawyers. They own their own firm and have given him his own room at their firm so he can have somewhere to do his homework and go after school. Grisham paints a regular routine picture for us, with dinner at 7, the same tired answers to the same tired questions, routine that no doubt would remind many teenage readers of their daily lives during the school week, but also resonates with many adults I imagine.
Grisham swiftly establishes Theo as someone who knows a lot about law, spending most of his free time in the law offices. When a fact about a murder trial comes to his attention, he is unsure what to do with the information, and this tale is all about the development of this knowledge and how he deals with it. I don't think it's an excellent piece of work, and in many ways it seems to be setting the scene for later pieces of work as opposed to being a solid and complete piece of work itself.
I think the strengths here are the way he gives us the details, as Grisham has always been meticulous about the way the plot and events surrounding it come together and form the story. As ever, he did just the same, making sure that the small details were there and that the larger details were easier because of this. The difference here though is that as this is aimed at younger readers there's less dragging out of the detail, and things are a bit tame. No paragraphs of lengthy description, no tantalising chases where someone may lose their life - it's all gentle and progressive, as the plot evolves with little or no drama or excitement.
I think this is the biggest thing that I found disappointing, the fact that the excitement wasn't there - the main thing about Grisham's work for me has always been how hard his books are to put down. Here, I found it easy to stop whenever I felt like it, not really that fussed about missing out. I know that I'm not the intended target audience for this book, and in a way this does change my opinion about the book and how good it is, but what it doesn't change is my enjoyment of it.
I would say that in terms of a book for younger readers, Grisham is to be commended for bringing his genre of legal thrillers to the table, but what was disappointing is the lack of excitement and how easy it was to put down. There are plenty of authors writing for younger audiences who manage to write thrilling tales, I'm just not sure whether this will rank alongside them. It's okay, but nothing special.
When you hear that a huge name in adult fiction is branching out into the YA market, you can't help but be curious. Add to that the fact that John Grisham has invented a whole new genre -The Young Adult Legal Thriller - and well, I jumped at the chance to review this and I'm really glad I did. Theodore Boone: Young Lawyer has such a broad appeal. Anyone from ten to ninety-two would enjoy this book. Theo is thirteen and he is a rather peculiar teen. He spends his spare time at the court house and he watches trial after trial. His parents are both lawyers. His mum Marcella Boone is a divorce lawyer. His dad Woods Boone is a real estate lawyer. Theo is passionate about the law and justice. He cannot decide if he wants to be a criminal laywer or a judge. We enter Theo's life at a very exciting time. The biggest trial ever to come to the city of Strattenberg is about to begin. A man - Pete Duffy - is accused by the prosceution of murdering his wife. Theo is desperate to watch every second of the trial but like most thirteen year olds he has to go to school. Luckily for Theo, his Government teacher is an ex-lawyer so his class do get to watch the opening statements.
On the surface it is hard to work out how a teen protagonist could be a lawyer but Grisham really makes it work. Many of Theo's fellow pupils come to him for help. He has his own little office at the back of his parents' law firm and that in itself made this book a joy to read. I can see that it will have an immense appeal to kids who feel powerless in an adult dominated world. Theo uses his parents' access codes to get into all sorts of important websites. It is very cool and although it doesn't sound believeable, it is written in such a way that you really don't care. You are too busy having a fun time learning about the criminal justice system through Theo's explanations of the law to his friends.
The characterisation in this book was quirky and a little comedic. Theo's parents are very habitual people (like me actually). They eat at the same time everyday. They go to the same places at the same time every week. It really made me laugh because I am so like this. Perhaps I should have been a lawyer rather than a librarian? The plot is also really well crafted. The main case of the state versus Mr Duffy is the main engine driving through the story but then there are also all these little cases that Theo resolves for his clients. It works really well and keeps you interested while you're hearing about how the trial is unfolding.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading Theodore Boone. It has a definite appeal to fans of murder mysteries and crime novels. It is a very easy read and fast paced. The fact that there is no swearing, no violence and no sexual content means that I would be more than happy for a nine/ ten year old to read this. The issue of the murder is dealt with very clinically and so no worries there either. Theodore Boone is a great quirky read that will teach you about all about criminal law and at the same time amuse and entertain you. I can't wait for the next instalment. Just super fun!
Since John Grisham's brilliant thrillers were what made my brother start reading novels obsessively as an eleven year old, I was very pleased to see that the renowned author was writing a law thriller for young teens. I don't care if it was just another way to make money, I appreciate literature for the 'new generation of readers', and think more good authors should try and stretch their talents that far.
If you see the latest John Grisham on the shelves of Waterstones and don't read its back cover, hopefully you'll notice its tagline: 'Half the man, twice the lawyer'. Otherwise, you may be expecting the next 'Pelican Brief'. The American edition looks slightly more teenage (helpfully, perhaps), with a kid and his bicycle silhouetted and the tagline: 'young lawyer'. What people may miss from the English edition, therefore, is that the hero of the story is only thirteen years old. Theodore Boone, the son of two lawyers in the small city of Strattenburg, knows a great deal about the law, and is fascinated by all the inner workings of the court. So when an apparently straightforward murder trial comes to his local court, Theo is an unexpected match for the adults involved.
Theodore Boone is an easy read, even for young teens, I would say, and this is a point in its favour. There's a story, and you do want to know the ending. There's interesting realism in the way court and education is portrayed, and parts of it, even, are exciting. Idealistic characters are always lovable, if a bit flat, and simplicity like this can be good for young readers. However, there are a few flaws to the book, ones which make me hope Grisham's writing for children can improve.
Firstly, the back cover contains the kind of catchy tags that you'd expect from a Grisham thriller: "A perfect murder. A faceless witness. One person knows the truth....And he's only thirteen years old. Meet Theodore Boone." If you're an adult, this might lure you in under false pretences. It's not as immediately thrilling as it may seem, sadly. Grisham may have deigned to write books for children, but he's not throwing them into so many thrillingly dangerous situations as he would his ordinary heros. He's being realistic about children's lives.
This makes the book less fun, undoubtedly, because instead of our character fearing for his life around every corner, he's wondering whether or not to tell his parents of his discoveries. And instead of being the man responsible for saving his defendant from death row, he's watching the trial from the court gallery and cycling away afterwards to feed his dog. Yes, they're ordinary teenage events, but for a novel, it's a bit boring! To add to this, the bad guys (if indeed there are any) seem distant, and not particularly dangerous. There are many things Grisham could have done to make Theo's life more extraordinary, but he hasn't bothered, for some reason. I wonder if the answer lies in the sequel, which I anticipate from the nature of this book's ending, but I can't be sure.
And if our hero were a rebellious, daredevil kind of teenager, he might grip the reader, but Theo is annoyingly well-behaved. He loves his parents, he cares for his fellow students, he's a teacher's pet, and he does his homework. Yes, he's just like a boy should be, but he's a bit two-dimensional for a novel! On top of this, you get the feeling throughout that John Grisham hasn't really met many thirteen year olds. The character of Theo is undefined enough to be rather hazy around the edges, but when you do glimpse a personality, it's that of a bright nine year old, not a bright teenager.
In terms of the story, it's an interesting one, when it gets going. It certainly educated me about the American law system, and how fallible it is, I suppose. However, educating is not necessarily what a young reader wants from their novels. They want a book more like that of Anthony Horowitz's spy series about the fourteen year old Alex Rider, who is forced to be an agent for MI6. Or that of J.K. Rowling's series about Harry Potter, who is forced to fight the evil wizard Lord Voldemort, to prevent the end of the world! In comparison, all Theo Boone does is observe trials, offer his peers advice about divorce lawyers etc. and then run to his parents when he's out of his depth. I found this disappointing, in some respect, but I can't be sure everyone would.
Comparing it with other similar books, therefore, it's not as exciting. However, I must repent of these comparisons because it is about the law, not spying or magic. The law is necessarily more factual and methodical, and it's a good idea to interest readers in what law is really like, not a 'Hollywooded' version of it. Theo is an ordinary kid, and to some extent, that's refreshing. You still have the fun elements present: the intensity of the trial, that he has a moral responsibility to do the right thing, and that his opponents have no idea what they're up against. How will Theo fight to make sure the trial goes fairly when he knows something no-one else does?
The key point to make about this book is that it seems the prelude to something much bigger. Grisham has established his young hero, and whetted our apetite as to what is to come. There are enemies out there, and he clearly plans to make a series revolving around Theo. The thing is, this first novel doesn't seem quite good enough to merit that. If I were Grisham, I would have condensed this tale into the beginning of a more exciting story. He could have waffled less and it would make a brilliant introducing plot for a bigger story. Theo has cheated the justice system, now they want revenge! But instead, it ends rather abruptly, and disappointingly. Readers of this age can cope with more complex plots than this; in fact, they need it from their books!
I am certainly not in the centre of Grisham's target audience, and must apologise for assuming that role, but I can remember wanting exciting books as a young teen, and hope this one is the start of a much more promising series. Grisham's slightly lazy lack of character development is all very well when that character is buzzing around shooting people and throwing himself into incredibly tight spots with people who won't stop at anything, but here it just makes the novel even flatter.
I am sorry to have ripped this book apart; when I was actually reading it, it was passably enjoyable. Only on reflection have I found it to be fairly boring. Therefore, do give it to your kids, if only because I am hoping Grisham may turn it into a stunning series. But if they're quite bright, and hungry for fully written books, give them Northern Lights or even an adult John Grisham (if you've checked it first) instead.