John Grisham, who is probably best known for his legal thrillers, has written a series of books for the middle school set, called “The Theodore Boone Series.”
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Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer is not great literature, but it kept my interest. It wasn’t completely satisfying because it is clearly the beginning of the series, and the plot did not really conclude. The characters seem a little unrealistic and the plot was far-fetched, but I think my 10-year-old would enjoy this book. One thing that I really liked about this book is that it is not your typical smart kid saves the day while the stupid adults bumble around. Theo is smart, but he realizes that he is in over his head, and he asks his uncle for help. His uncle very wisely brings Theo’s parents into the situation, and it is clear that Theo’s best decision was to involve the adults in his life.
The main issue that some parents might have with this book is that the entire story centers around the murder trial of a man who is accused of killing his wife, and there is a clear description of the murder: death by strangulation. Theo’s best friend’s parents are going through a divorce, and she doesn’t want to live with either of them. Theo has an alcoholic uncle, and alcohol is mentioned a few times. There are a few instances where it is mentioned that someone has been arrested for drugs. Marijuana is mentioned. “Oh My God” is said once. The murderer nearly gets away with his crime.
This is not the next book for your kids to read after Encyclopedia Brown. Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer definitely has an edge to it, and the murder, illegal immigration, and possibly even divorce are probably things you will want to talk through with your kids. It does give a very thorough explanation of how murder trials work.
My Mom-Meter gives Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer an overall safety rating of 2 (moderately safe) for ages 10 and up.
The Lexile rating for Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer is 790L.
Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):
Theodore Boone is a precocious 13-year-old boy, son of a real estate lawyer (his dad) and a divorce lawyer (his mom). He plans to be a lawyer (or maybe a judge) when he grows up. Theo loves the courthouse, and everything about the justice system. He spends most of his free time there. Theo and his parents live in a small town, and many ids come to Theo for legal advice. He handles anything from freeing pets from the pound to advising kids on what their parents need to do to avoid foreclosure.
Theo’s best friend, April, is going through a terrible time. Her parents, who have been arrested on drug charges before, are going through a divorce, and April has to choose which parent to live with. She doesn’t want to live with either one (both are pretty terrible). Nothing is stated, but when her siblings left home, it left “April as the only child for her parents to torment.” Theo “despised her parents for the way they treated her. He despised them for the chaos of their lives, for their neglect of April, for their cruelty to her.” April’s dream is to run away and live in Paris. April’s parents’ case drags in and out throughout the book, and when the book ends, you still do not know who the judge will decide to put April with.
The big news in town is a big murder trial. Peter Duffy is accused of murdering his wife by strangling her. There isn’t much evidence to link him to it, but everyone thinks he’s guilty. Theo is eager to be in the courtroom throughout the trial, but still has to go to school. It appears that Peter Duffy is going to be declared innocent, but then Theo finds out from a boy he tutors at a shelter that there was a witness (the boy’s cousin) that saw Peter Duffy go into his house with glove at the time of the murder, then leave and throw away his gloves. The witness is scared to come forward because he is an illegal immigrant, and he fears deportation. Theo is bound to secrecy, but he knows that Peter Duffy will not be convicted without this witness’ testimony. Theo also knows trial rules well enough to know that there is no such thing as a surprise witness at a trial. All witnesses have to be declared at the beginning of the trial. Theo is in a quandary. If he tells his parents, breaking his promise, he knows his parents (who, as lawyers, are considered officers of the court) are bound by duty to aid justice and they will tell the authorities, probably resulting in the witness being deported. If Theo doesn’t tell anyone, a guilty man will go free.
In the midst of this moral dilemma, Theo helps a classmate who says he overheard his parents talking about foreclosure. Theo gives him advice for his parents of the best lawyer to deal with those matters. Theo helps another classmate whose brother has been arrested for possession and distribution of pot, explaining what will happen to the brother. Theo also helps the most popular girl at school whose dog had escaped and was at the pound for the second time. Theo goes to “Animal Court” and gets the dog released and the fees waived. The girl is impressed and tells Theo to call her sometime.
Theo finally decides to talk to his Uncle Ike, who was disbarred years ago for some disgrace that Theo doesn’t know the details of. Uncle Ike was no longer a lawyer and he wasn’t an accountant, but he prepares tax returns for people. Ike has a drinking problem and doesn’t see his brother (Theo’s father) any more. Theo’s parents insist that Theo visit Ike once a week, and Ike always hounds Theo about his grades. When Theo tells Ike the story, carefully avoiding specifics about the witness, Ike takes some time to think about it, but after Ike sits through some of the trial, he realizes that this witness is their only chance of convicting the murderer. Ike pulls Theo out of school by lying to the school secretary and telling her they had a funeral to go to. Theo plays along with it, and then Ike takes Theo to see Theo’s parents. Ike prompts Theo to tell his parents the whole story, and they all work together to figure out a solution. They go to the judge and tell him the facts (withholding the witness’ details), and the judge decides to declare a mistrial, meaning Peter will be tried again, and the witness will have the opportunity to testify. Theo’s parents and Ike work together to find a home for the witness’ family, and work out a deal for him to obtain legal status.
Throughout the story, there is mention of Omar Cheepe, a thug who seems menacing, but never really does anything. He is hired by Peter Duffy, and he appears at odd times and seems sinister. He has a man follow the judge when the judge is out for a walk, and Omar talks to the man about photographing the judge leaving the Boone offices. Nothing comes of it in this book, but this book leaves many threads hanging.
- You might want to talk about the murder with your kids. Why would a man kill his wife? Is murder okay as long as you don’t get caught? Are there other consequences beyond the justice system when you do wrong?
- April’s parents’ divorce is really hard on April. She doesn’t want to live with either parent. You might want to talk with your kids about how they can be a good friend to someone whose parents are getting a divorce. You might want to talk about why some parents divorce or even what your family believes about divorce.
- Theo promised Julio not to tell anyone about what his cousin saw, but he does tell Ike, his parents, and the judge before getting permission from Julio. Was Theo right to break his promise? Is it ever okay to break a promise?
- April’s parents “had been arrested on drug charges, though neither had served time.”
- Theo’s dad, Mr. Boone, smokes a pipe. “Mr. Boone smoked a pip, and preferred to do it with the windows closed and the ceiling fan off so that the air was thick with the rich aroma of whatever flavored tobacco he happened to favor that day. The smoke didn’t bother Theo, either, though he did worry about his father’s health.”
- Mr. Boone tells Theo that if Theo skips school to go to the trial, he has asked the judge to put Theo in jail “with common drunks and gang members.”
- Ike wears “a T-shirt that advertised beer.”
- There are “rough-looking men” hanging around outside the homeless shelter Theo volunteers at. He could smell the “smell of stale booze.” They ask him for money, but he says he doesn’t have any. He knows they would not hurt a kid.
- “Ike drank too much,” Theo overhears someone say Ike might help “if he was sober.”
- Ike tells Theo he has Budweiser or Sprite in his fridge. Theo jokingly asks for Budweiser and Ike gives him a Sprite.
- It is mentioned that Mrs. Boone drinks wine at her book club.
- One of Theo’s classmates is known to smoke. His brother is arrested for possession and possible distribution of pot. It is also called marijuana once.
- Ike has to go out to smoke a cigarette.
- Omar Cheepe smokes a cigarette.
- Ads for “local beer” is mentioned once.
- The school secretary asks Theo for help. “My brother was stopped for driving under the influence… He’s not a drunk…” Theo asks what his BAC or blood alcohol content was, and finds out that it was 0.09. Theo tells her that 0.08 is the legal limit. The secretary says it’s her brother’s first offense.”‘He’s not a drunk. He barely had two glasses of wine.’ Two drinks. Always two drinks. Regardless of how drunk or how sloppy or how belligerent, they’ve never had more than two drinks.” Theo gives her the name of the lawyer who “handles all the drunks.”
- It is mentioned that Ike has weekly poker games.
- Theo says “Oh my gosh” once.
- “Shut up” is said once.
- “Moron” is said once.
- “Oh my God” is said once.
- Theo hides things from his parents – leaves for school early to see April at the courthouse, or to meet with his uncle.
- Theo’s Uncle Ike takes Theo out of school to tell Theo’s parents about the murder witness. Ike tells the school secretary that Theo needs to leave school early for a funeral, and Theo confirms that lie.
Potentially Offensive Behavior:
- Theo’s mom skips breakfast every day because she is always trying to lose ten pounds.
- April’s sister, March, dropped out of school at 16 and “left town.”
- Mrs. Boone says “The men can look like slobs, but the women are expected to look nice. What’s fair about that?”… “the truth was that Mrs. Boone enjoyed spending money on clothes and looking nice. Mr. Boone cared nothing for fashion and even less for neatness. He was only three years older in age, but at least a decade in spirit.”
- April’s dream is to run away and live in Paris.
- It is mentioned once that Ike listens to the Grateful Dead.
- There is a rumor that a boy has a tattoo on his rear end.
- Theo’s mom is a divorce lawyer. Divorce is not presented in a positive manner (April’s parents’ divorce is very traumatic for her), but it seems to be a necessary evil.
- When Theo sees April, “Theo hustled over and sat next to her, very closely, knees touching. With any other girl he would have placed himself at least two feet away and presented any chance of contact… they had been close friends since they could remember. It wasn’t a romance; they were too young for that. Theo did not know of a single thirteen-year-old boy in his class who admitted to having a girlfriend. Just the opposite. They wanted nothing to do with them. And the girls felt the same way. Theo had been warned that things would change, and dramatically, but that seemed unlikely.”
- April’s parents are getting a divorce.
- There is “awkward flirting” between the girls and boys in between classes. “During classes, they were “gender-separated,” according to a new policy adopted by the smart people in charge of educating all the children in the town. The genders were free to mingle at all other times.”
- Theo has a crush on a pretty clerk in the courthouse. She is married and pregnant. “She was very pretty and young and Theo was in love. He would marry Jenny tomorrow if he could, but his age and her husband complicated things. Plus, she was pregnant, and this bothered Theo, though he mentioned it to no one.” He stares at her throughout their conversations.
- It is mentioned that Ike’s wife divorced him after he was disbarred.
- The most popular girl in 8th grade needs help from Theo to get her dog out of the pound. “She was very cute and outgoing and loved to flirt… Since her interests centered around athletics, Theo was on her B list. Maybe her C list… Theo couldn’t help but notice how cute she was even when she was crying… Hallie usually attracted a crowd of boys.”
- Hallie sat “very close” to Theo while waiting in Animal Court. “This made the moment one of Theo’s finest.” After Theo gets the fees waived, and the dog released, “Hallie slid her hand around Theo’s left elbow. Arm in arm. He instinctively slowed down a little. What a moment. ‘You’re a great lawyer, Theo,’ she said…’Why don’t you call me sometime?’ she asked…Probably because he assumed she was too busy talking to al the other boys. She changed boyfriends ever other month. He’d never even thought of calling her. ‘I’ll do that,’ he said. But he knew he wouldn’t. He wasn’t exactly looking for a girlfriend, and besides, April would be devastated if he began chasing a flirt like Hallie.”
- A classmate’s parents are “on their second or third marriages.”
- Hallie flashes Theo “a comely smile” but leaves after she notices he is busy.
- The Boones “had wanted more children, but nature didn’t cooperate.”
- A thug named Omar Cheepe works for the accused, Peter Duffy. Omar shows up at odd places, and is clearly keeping an eye on Theo. He has someone follow the judge, and asks to surveillance equipment to park outside of Theo’s parents’ offices when the judge unofficially visits them. Nothing comes of it, but probably will in the following book or two.
- There is a mention of monuments to those killed in war.
- Lawyers are compared to gladiators.
- The focus of this book is on the murder trial of Peter Duffy. Mr. Duffy is accused of murdering his wife.
- It is mentioned that the murdered woman’s first husband was killed in a plane crash.
- The prosecution shows a picture of the murdered woman. “It showed Mrs. Duffy lying on the carpeted floor, well dressed, seemingly untouched, her high-heeled shoes still on her feet.”
- “The person who killed Mrs. Duffy grabbed her from behind and pressed firmly on her carotid artery.” The prosecuting lawyer says “Ten seconds of firm pressure in just the right place and you lose consciousness… Once Mrs. Duffy passed out, her killer kept pressing, firmer and firmer, and sixty seconds later she was dead. There are no signs of struggle – no broken fingernails, no scratches, nothing….”
- Someone uses the term “gas him” for putting down a dog.
- At Animal Court, a man’s snake had escaped and scared a neighbor. The neighbor says that he bought an ax to kill that snake. “I swear I’ll kill him. Should’ve killed him this time, but I wasn’t thinking And I didn’t have an ax.”
From a ten-year-old’s perspective: “I liked this book because it’s a complicated mystery. It was a very thrilling page-turner. It definitely makes the law sound interesting. Theo is a very well respected person because he knows a lot about law. He did make 1 mistake. He should have withheld the information about the surprise witness in order to keep his word to his friend.” [Liam and I disagree on this point.] “Kids ages 10 and up would enjoy this book. I haven’t read any books like this to compare it to.”
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