This is a warning. If you have picked up ‘Theodore Boone’ expecting it to be anything like ‘Runaway Jury
’ or ‘Time to Kill
’, you will be disappointed. While his earlier works were for adults looking for easy fiction-based stimulation, his novel ‘Theodore Boone’ marks the foray of Grisham in fiction for 8-12 year olds. However, it is not too different from his work for adult readers. Theodore Boone is perhaps not as Americana as Grisham’s other novels like ‘The Rainmaker
’, ‘The Brethren
’, or ‘Pelican Brief
’, but the story does fall in the same ‘small lawyer-big system’ category. In this story, though, the small lawyer is really a young lawyer – Theodore Boone is all of thirteen years old. And the system – well, it’s not exactly the Federal government – is the smaller, local system of Strattenburg. Regardless of the Grisham template, Theodore Boone comes with a riveting tagline: “Half the man, twice the lawyer.”
So, here’s the story of our man-lawyer, Theodore Boone.
There’s a neat town called Strattenburg that sees a major criminal trial after ages. It’s the Duffy murder case and some legal luminaries are expected to participate. Theodore or ‘Theo’ Boone is keen on watching it, as is the rest of Strattenburg. He’s the child of two respectable lawyers in the area and also has a scruffy yet clever lawyer uncle, Ike. (Regular Grisham readers will note that Ike serves the careless genius element that is a staple in all his novels.) Theo’s family is reasonably close-knit and not at all dysfunctional, which leaves much of the drama to unfold only in the courtroom. The Boone family volunteers regularly at a neighboring community centre where Theo meets a boy whose cousin may know something that could impact the Duffy trial’s outcome. Some complications exist, though. This cousin is likely to get deported if he steps forward with the incriminating evidence. Understandably, he doesn’t want to do that. There are two days until the end of the trial before the jury decides the case.
So, how does the legal system ensure that justice doesn’t fall through the cracks? How does a thirteen year old ensure that the legal system does what it’s supposed to?
It’s a good enough read if you consider this book to be read by a child or a young adult. In fact, it’s a great option. It lays out the legal system in a simple yet interesting manner and it’s not yet another fantasy fiction story. (A hundred brownie points to Grisham for that alone!) The legal aspects of the story are well-knit. There are also instances of cute wit. (Theo has a dog called ‘Judge’, one of his friends is ‘April’ whose has a sibling called ‘June’, etc.) However, the language and the storytelling tend to get stilted in places. John Grisham, perhaps, is not very comfortable writing for children. And it shows. Portions of the novel that deal with possibilities of mistrials, hung juries, etc. somehow indicate that Grisham was holding himself back. It seems like he first wrote out a sizzling paragraph rich with intricacies. Then he whittled it down to its skeleton so that a 10 year old reader might get it.
Overall, though, it’s a great pick to increase the reading repertoire of young adults. Theodore Boone may not be hunting down eggs of a Phoenix or a magic ring that grants him eternal lordship over the earth. He’s just a young chap interested in law wanting to see it work.
In today’s times, that, if anything, is a story of magic. And it’s good if kids believe in it.