Author: John Grisham
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Details: £12.99; 240 pages
I had high expectations for this book. Grisham is the highly successful author of multiple bestselling legal and courtroom dramas for adults, several of which have also been turned into blockbuster films. His Theodore Boone novels for young adults, of which this is the seventh, have also proved popular, and the idea behind them is a good one.
Just 13 and the son of two lawyers, Theo aspires to follow in his parents’ footsteps, and exploits their network of contacts to pursue and attempt to solve cases of injustice among his friends and the local community, with an impressive degree of success.
In this case, the victim is Woody, a friend from a dysfunctional family who has been struggling. After Woody accompanies his older brother, Tony, on a pizza delivery, they meet and go on a drive with Tony’s blatantly feckless friend Garth, and drink too much beer. They end up being arrested after Garth robs a convenience store using a fake but authentic-looking gun.
Despite knowing nothing of Garth’s plans and being outside in the car at the time, Woody and Tony are treated as accomplices to the crime and arrested. Garth’s wealthy father quickly bails him out, leaving him free to brag on social media about his “adventure”. Meanwhile, the brothers, who have no money and few champions, are trapped in custody. A worthy mission for Theo!
The story is a cautionary tale, with a morally sound message about how lives can be ruined by unwise decisions. Woody doesn’t even like beer, but drinks it to fit in with the older boys, and Garth’s treatment of the whole episode as a big joke and refusal to accept any consequences illustrates how much damage can result from hanging out with the wrong people. Why did it seem like a good idea to wave what looked like a lethal weapon around, even if it was actually only a water pistol?
Theo himself is a likeable character, who cares about people and crusades for fair legal treatment. This is surely an inspiration not only for aspiring lawyers but also for anyone with a social conscience.
Unfortunately, after the initial crime there is little action or tension, and the narrative focuses on the problems of the American bail system and how to resolve them, which becomes rather tedious. Perhaps, as a cynical adult, I found it too improbable that so many important legal professionals were prepared to give Theo the time of day, let alone listen to his suggestions, despite his connections.
So something of a disappointment then. I also found the writing style quite bland and simple, although this might be a concession to younger, less academic readers. I certainly don’t think Alex Rider needs to be looking over his shoulder just yet.
Jackie Murrell is librarian at Bromley High School GDST, in south-east London
I really like mystery and crime-themed books, so I was really looking forward to reading this book. I hadn’t read any of Grisham's work before. However, I knew my parents had read and enjoyed a lot of his adult books.
Despite having high hopes for the book, I was quite disappointed. Apart from the excitement of the robbery and arrest in the first three chapters, the rest of the book did not have much excitement or tension and so I found it quite dull.
The writing style was very plain, which would be fine if it was aimed at younger readers. However, it couldn’t have been as all the law elements were very complicated and in-depth. I also found that it wasn't very realistic, as who would let a 13-year-old kid in a courtroom, no matter his connections, or let him skip school virtually every day? However, I think the characters were all very well-developed and likeable.
Jessica, age 12
‘Not my preferred genre’
This book is based around the law and the courts, which is a topic that isn’t very common in books for teenagers. Despite being part of a series, it didn’t require knowledge of the other books.
The style of writing can make you feel as if you are really in the courtroom and the action is happening around you. Theo is a role model for people who may be very interested in the law, but feel that they are too young to get involved.
Tony and Woody’s change in personality and determination is inspiring for people who have done wrong and want to turn over a new leaf. Because both Theo and Woody were around my age, it felt easy to empathise with them.
In my opinion, the action begins slightly too early, and the blurb is also quite revealing and summarises most of the story’s plot. Overall, I would rate this book 3/5 stars as it was not my preferred genre, but I would recommend it to somebody who is interested in what goes on in the world of law.
Ramya, age 12
‘I didn’t enjoy it that much’
When I first saw the book and started reading it, I was intrigued as to what would happen. In the blurb, it made the story out to be a crime-fiction mystery story, but actually it was more about the law system in America.
I sometimes lost interest in the parts of the story that gave details about how the American law system worked, and the problems of the bailing system. The actual crime ended very early in the book, and after that, it didn't really capture my attention.
I have read some of John Grisham's other books, and I enjoyed them, but in this book I thought the writing was rather tedious and dull. I found the book very disappointing, as I was looking forward to a crime drama, and ended up with the problems in America's legal system.
The book could have ended a lot earlier and after the initial story plot (which I thought should have been the focus of the book) there was not a lot of action happening. All in all, I didn't enjoy this book that much.
Aria, age 12
‘Not Grisham’s best book’
I thought that the beginning of the book was very good and action-packed and that kept me wanting to read on. It was very interesting at the start and I had high hopes for the rest of the book.
Unfortunately, after all of the action, I didn’t really understand what was happening, as I am not very familiar with the American legal system, and what happened to the boys next. I thought that it was quite unrealistic as the police didn’t observe the gun at all before they arrested any of the boys. Also, the teachers at Theo’s school let him skip lots of lessons, but the important professionals didn’t want to listen to the suggestions that he missed school for.
I think that all of the boys are likeable, but I didn’t like Gareth, as he got the boys into this mess and did nothing to get them out. He didn’t even offer to help them. Gareth is a very dislikeable character because he acts like a horrible friend towards Tony. Overall, I didn’t think this was Grisham’s best book so far.
Jess, age 12
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