Getting lawyered by a 13-year-old

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Getting lawyered by a 13-year-old

The fourth instalment of John Grisham's Theodore Boone series takes a different turn as the kid lawyer gets entangled in a town uprising.

By Rohit Nair

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Published: Fri 11 Sep 2015, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 11 Sep 2015, 12:46 PM

There is a certain understated class to John Grisham novels. They're never really overtly violent, pudgy with flowery language or twisted in plot. They're thinking man's novels, with characters playing a calculated game. Of course, it helps that so much gravitates around legal issues and everyone - everyone - likes gleaning little lawyer-y titbits. Certainly makes for good conversation. and TV - explains why so many people love shows like Law & Order, The Practice and The Good Wife. And unlike other prolific (translation: successful) writers like James Patterson, Grisham easily carries forth his educative, no-nonsense style to his tween literature efforts too. Case in point: the Theodore Boone series and its fourth instalment, Theodore Boone: The Activist.
Sure, there aren't many kids out there like the 13-year-old Theodore, who have fires in their bellies every time there's an opportunity to show off some well-honed lawyer skills, but here's a literary role model that kids these days could really aspire to. It helps that both his parents are attorneys, but hey, it's a better story than Twilight, and that's already an advantage. Not only is he a brilliant kid, a master debater and an excellent student, he's also very much a kid. He goes camping with his fellow boy scouts, loves his dog, and goes fishing with his friends. He has plenty to deal with at school - starting with one of his favourite teachers getting laid off due to budget cuts - and he also spends a fair bit of time helping kids resolve small matters by giving them helpful legal advice out of his makeshift 'office' at his parents' legal consultancy. He's not a lawyer, but he's the closest thing to it the kids of Strattenburg - Theo's hometown - have.
But Theo isn't in it for the trivial divorces (his mother is a divorce attorney) or real estate drudgery (his father is a property lawyer). He's in it because he wants to be in the limelight. He wants to take on criminals and put them away. At least that was what he wanted before the bypass was to be built through his little town. And he only stumbles on the unfolding case because of the aforementioned music teacher's dismissal. Apparently a lot of state money is being funnelled into this politically motivated project, resulting in a lot of layoffs and cuts, but no one really wants the bypass except the politicians, who seem to be colluding with corporate interests. Of course, the party line is that it will bring prosperity and reduce traffic, but we all know what it means is the loss of natural environs, and more gas stations and strip malls. And soon, Theo realises that although legal, there's something not right about the bypass.
Slowly, environmentalist groups and rights groups start to protest against the bypass, and Theo is inevitably drawn into the fracas when it turns out that the bypass would destroy one of his friends' family homes, one that's stood for generations. Other homes and businesses will also be affected, and soon, more and more voices rally in protest. He begins to wonder whether something not being wrong makes it right, and eventually gets involved in the case of the bypass as more than just a voice - an activist, as the title of the book suggests. And it's also about when he realises that there are more paths to fame as a lawyer than just fighting crime.
Theodore Boone: The Activist is a great story that teaches - having been written for a largely American audience - middle school kids about some of the socio-political issues gripping the US and offers some insights into the legal issues around them in a language that's not complicated or 'lawyer-y'. It's quite the page-turner too, even for adults, and a fairly quick read at fewer than 300 small pages. Despite that, Grisham manages to teach us quite a bit about legal concepts like 'Eminent Domain' - when the government buys up land for development - which is a hot topic issue right now in other parts of the world.

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