I was excited to see Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer as it was recently added to my library’s shelves. When I first saw the book I thought, “This is just the sort of thing I would have love to read as a child.” I’ve always been a fan of mysteries and crime/law-oriented fiction. Yet I realize now that I didn’t start reading this genre until I was a teen–and I think there’s a reason. After reading a decent amount of this genre for both children and adults I think it is difficult to craft an ultra-realistic crime mystery for children. When I read crime novels written for adults, it’s easy to suspend belief and imagine an ordinary citizen taking on a case to achieve a sort of vigilante justice–it’s what makes the genre exciting. Writing a child into crime novel situations is difficult. The writer must make the situations believable enough to maintain trust with the reader while making the content exciting enough to be entertaining. It’s a delicate balance. I thought if anyone could make a realistic crime novel work for kids it would be John Grisham as he is wildly successful in writing this genre for adults. Unfortunately his skills don’t translate to children’s literature–at least not in this book.
First, I felt that the story had some structural issues. It seemed that the first 2/3rds of the book were in-depth exposition. The most crucial plot points don’t take off until much later in the book. To this end, characters who are essential to crucial plot points aren’t introduced until later in the book. While Grisham attempts to organically weave these characters into the story–it all seems a bit stilted. A super important character would pop up and I’d think, “Oh, so I guess you’re in this book now. Ok. ” It felt like these characters were thrown in only to serve the plot and their standing in Theo’s life was patched in for effect.
Next, Theo reads a bit too old. I was discussing the book with a colleague and she said, “The kid is kind of like an old man.” I couldn’t agree more. As one would expect, Theo knows a lot about the law to the point that he (and Grisham) expound on certain topics in a way that was boring for me as an adult–I can’t imagine a child being truly engaged during some of the tedious law-centric explanations that Theo doles out. Also, the majority of Theo’s interaction in the book is with adult characters (it makes sense, there aren’t tons of kids hanging out in courthouses and law offices). While he goes to school and has kid friends–all of these interactions seem superficial compared to his adult relationships and interactions. I know that there are kids out there who can identify with such an existence–I was one of them–I don’t know that Grisham acknowledges Theo’s preference for or abundance of adult company in a way that is meaningful to the reader. My main point, if you’re going to write a book about a kid lawyer–for kids to read–make the character more like a real kid. I know that there is no one way to write a child character–and I don’t want authors to write kids with traits and preferences they imagine children to have in a way that is insulting to child readers. I just feel like Grisham misses the mark with Theo. He’s and old soul, wise beyond his years in a way that I feel serves the plot–not Theo and not the reader.
As with all books, there’s a reader out there who will enjoy this story. Additionally, I think that this book is a great cross-curricular read for government and social studies classes. Middle graders learning about the legal process and the legislative branch of government would do well to read this book for its realistic depiction of courtroom scenes and the legal process.