by John Grisham ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 25, 2010
The one-day laydown and review embargo of a Big Book probably makes a lot of sense for a publisher. It generates suspense, it heightens anticipation and it helps to ensure that nothing substantively bad can get out about your book. Notwithstanding the benefits to the publisher, it is a pain in the ass for a prepublication review source like Kirkus. A review embargo gums up the works, so we tend to sit the game out. But once in a while, I decide to play along, so when I received the confidentiality agreement for John Grisham’s first kids’ book, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, I signed. I admit: I was curious. Did Dutton choose this approach because they were afraid the world would hear that the book sucked? After all, bestselling adults have an uneven track record with kids’ books. We called James Patterson’s new fantasy, Witch & Wizard (co-written with Gabrielle Charbonnet, 2009), “flapdoodle.” Clive Cussler’s latest, The Adventures of Hotsy Totsy (2010), was designated “[a] publishing event that demands an apology to the industry, all children and the trees that gave their lives.” In the final analysis, for all its hype, Grisham’s book is literarily a nonevent either way: Neither truly terrible nor incredibly awesome, it’s a perfectly OK mystery with a likably decent main character. Thirteen-year-old Theo Boone has his own “office” at his parents’ law firm, and he’s the go-to kid for his classmates’ legal problems. He “represents” a friend and her scoff (leash) law dog in Animal Court and provides advice on bankruptcy to another friend, who’s concerned his parents will lose their home. But right now his main concern is the big Duffy murder trial—and it won’t surprise readers when Theo finds he holds the key to cracking the case. Grisham’s direct style translates well enough to an audience of younger readers, and he takes care to make Theo’s involvement basically credible, grounding it in his family connections and his enthusiasm for the law. No Alex Rider, he gets help from adults when he needs it. The only thing that really makes the book stand out is its misogyny. Despite stable 50-50 enrollment rates in law schools, the only woman lawyer to figure prominently is Theo’s mother, who practices family law. Everywhere else, women figure as assistants and secretaries of either the buxom or the motherly variety. That this schism is likely to be perpetuated in Theo’s town, population 75,000, is just about guaranteed by the bizarre sex-segregation of his school, which ensures that only his all-boy civics class gets to attend the big trial—thanks to Theo’s connections, of course. A subplot involving Theo’s best friend, a girl, and her parents’ acrimonious divorce, does not resolve, indicating more Theodore Boone titles to come. Let’s hope they catch up to the 21st century.
Pub Date: May 25, 2010
Page Count: 266
Review Posted Online: May 25, 2010
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