Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer
A book review for parents
This legal drama is the first book in the "Theodore Boone" series by John Grisham and is published by Dutton Children's Books, a division of Penguin's Young Readers Group.
Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Theodore Boone is an average 13-year-old, except he is obsessed with the law and can't decide if he is going to be a great lawyer or judge. He lives with his parents, Marcella and Woods Boone, who are lawyers. His Uncle Ike lives nearby; Uncle Ike was a practicing lawyer before he was disbarred. Theodore's friend and classmate April is in the middle of a custody battle but doesn't want to live with either parent. Theodore tries to comfort April and explain divorce custody laws to her. Theodore explains the law not only to April, but also to many of his classmates. One needs advice because his parents are behind in their mortgage payments and may lose their house. Another has a brother arrested for the possession of marijuana. Animal control has picked up the dog of a third classmate, and another may have information that could change the verdict in the biggest murder trial that has ever hit Theodore's small town.
In the Pete Duffy trial, Pete is accused of murdering his wife. Both the prosecution and defense lawyers in this case are good, but the prosecution's case is based on circumstantial evidence. Pete had access to the murder scene, and he had a motive, but the defense is able to get the jury to doubt Pete's guilt. In the middle of the trial, Theodore tracks down a classmate's cousin, who saw Pete go into his house and leave it at the time of the murder. The cousin won't testify, though, because he is an illegal immigrant and doesn't want to be sent back to El Salvador.
Theodore must rely on the advice of Uncle Ike, and eventually both his parents, to figure out his next step. The whole Boone family finds a way to help the illegal immigrant work toward getting his legal residency and tells the Duffy trial's judge what they know. To the relief of Theodore and his family, the judge declares a mistrial just before closing arguments.
In the courtroom, the bailiff uses a Bible for witnesses to place their hands on when they swear they will tell the truth. People at the homeless shelter are invited to worship at various churches, and church volunteers help kids in the shelter with their homework.
Theodore's father, Woods, is a real estate lawyer. In the mornings, he leaves early to have coffee with friends and talk ("gossip"). In addition to their home, Theodore's parents own a house that is converted into a law office. Theodore's mother, Marcella, has her office downstairs with their legal assistants, and Woods has the whole upstairs to himself because he likes to smoke flavored tobacco in his pipe. He works hard for his family and his clients, and he leaves his work at the office. Woods figures out who told Theodore about the murder, and Theodore is glad that someone figured it out without his having to tell anyone. Woods is an OK golfer and likes to give advice to his son when they golf together.
Marcella believes that men can do well in the courtroom even when they look like slobs, but women have to look their best to be successful. She often takes her work home. Theodore's parents go to the soup kitchen on Tuesdays to offer free legal advice while Theodore tutors kids. The Boones are generous with their time and money, especially to those at the homeless shelter. After talking to the judge of the Duffy trial, Theodore looks to his mother for reassurance, and she gives it to him.
Theodore is expected to spend 30 minutes each week with Uncle Ike, even thought his parents don't. His uncle used to be a lawyer, but he was disbarred for unethical behavior. Uncle Ike tells Theodore that the judicial system doesn't always come out right. He suggests that Theodore forget what he knows about the Duffy trial. Uncle Ike gets Theodore out of class by lying that Theodore has to go to a funeral.
Deputy Gossett acts as though he knows more than he does. He tells others what he thinks, even though Theodore knows the deputy doesn't know as much as he thinks he does.
An assistant principal at Theodore's school yells at kids in the hallway to get them to go to class.
Other Belief Systems
The law works when you have men and women as judges and lawyers who aren't afraid to stand up for what is right, regardless of the consequences.
Pete Duffy is accused of murdering his wife. Cross-examinations are heated and harsh. The mild slang term butt out is used occasionally, as is the mild derogatory term moron. Mention is made that a dog kept at the city's pound would be gassed if it were not adopted within 30 days. A clerk is described as the grouchiest old bag in the courthouse. In a trial, a person learns that his neighbor has four boa constrictors. In his exclamation, he uses God's name in vain. This neighbor buys an ax to kill the snakes if he ever sees them.
The prosecution says that Pete Duffy has been planning his wife's murder for two years. He and his wife have had fights and have talked to divorce lawyers. Forty-six-year-old Myra Duffy was strangled as she was leaving her house to have lunch with her sister. Her carotid artery was pressed firmly from behind for 10 seconds, which made her pass out. Then it was held firmer for 60 seconds, which killed her. Her lack of struggle showed she knew the person. Her death is described as a cold-blooded murder.
Omar Cheepe used to be a federal agent but now works surveillance for hire on Pete Duffy's side. Omar's eyes dart in a way that makes Theodore think he wants to shoot someone.
Theodore has a crush on a woman named Jenny in the clerk's office at family court. She always treats Theodore nicely, but it bothers Theodore that she is older, has a husband and is pregnant. At one point she pats his knee reassuringly. Theodore is bothered that she patted his knee like she would pat a puppy's head. The classes at his school are separated into boys' and girls' classes.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Does Theodore always obey the rules?
What rules does he break when he rides his bike from the courthouse to his middle school?
How does having a rule about not going the wrong way down a street help people?
How does a rule about not riding between residential houses help people?
Is "running late" a good excuse for breaking rules?
How do you keep from breaking rules?
- What rule does Theodore break to get the information he needs from the court reporter system?
Why is hacking into a government system against the rules if the documents in the system are all public documents?
How does Theodore feel about breaking this rule?
If your conscious tells you that something isn't right or correct, as Theodore's told him, what should you do?
- What does Elsa, the Boones' receptionist-secretary, always comment on?
Why do her comments about his clothes make Theodore feel self conscious when picking his outfits each morning?
Do you think he was right or wrong to think that people are always watching each other "and taking notes"? Explain.
- How does Theodore think better of himself and less of Deputy Gossett, Uncle Ike and others?
Is it OK to judge others because they don't think like you do?
How do you keep from looking down on others?
- Why does Theodore listen to adults who he thinks don't know as much as he does?
Is making sure they don't know as much as he does a good reason for listening?
Do you know people like this?
How does being around those people make you feel?
- Does Theodore think Pete Duffy is innocent or guilty?
Why does having an opinion about this upset Theodore?
Why isn't it easy to presume a defendant is innocent until proven guilty?
- How do Jack Hogan (the prosecutor) and Clifford Nance (the defense attorney) treat each other in the courtroom?
How do they treat each other outside the courtroom?
How might people separate their jobs from their friendships?
What makes it hard for most people to separate their jobs from their personal life?
Why doesn't the Bible want us to keep grudges?
- What does Theodore tell his parents so he can go to the trial during school?
Why doesn't his faking sickness work?
Have you ever pretended to be sick to get out of doing something?
How were you caught?
- Why doesn't Theodore think Julio knows anything about the murder?
How is Theodore prejudiced against Julio?
Does the fact that Julio is homeless and from El Salvador mean he doesn't know what he saw?
What surprises Theodore and changes his mind about Julio?
Have you ever judged people because of how they looked?
Because of where they're from?
Because they weren't as rich as you?
- Why does Theodore go to his uncle for help?
Why doesn't he go to his parents?
What doesn't Theodore want to reveal?
Have you ever gone to someone other than us (your parents) for advice?
Why was it easier to talk to someone else?
Did you get good advice?
- What does Theodore do to keep a sarcastic comment from leaving his mouth?
Does biting his tongue work?
How do you keep mean thoughts from being said out loud?
- What does Theodore do when Judge Gantry asks everyone to leave the courtroom so a horrible crime can be described?
Is Theodore glad he went to the storage area to peek into the courtroom and hear what happened?
Why do adults sometimes ask you to leave the room before discussing a topic?
What can you learn from Theodore about this?
Drugs and domestic violence:
A student at Theodore's school asks Theodore for help. His brother has been arrested for the possession of marijuana. He tells Theodore that the war in his home is between his parents and the kids.
Smoking: Near the carousel, teens hang out. They smoke, and the way they try to stand gives the impression that they're tough.
Condescension: Theodore is portrayed as a very intelligent middle-school student. Throughout the book Theodore thinks that some of the questions that kids and adults ask him are ridiculous. He doesn't say his thoughts out loud; he keeps his condescending opinions to himself, but shares them with the reader.
Alcohol: Uncle Ike drinks too much alcohol. He offers Theodore a Budweiser. When Theodore says he wants one, his uncle hands him a Sprite.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.