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15 July 2010

John Grisham Goes Juve

I don't read much John Grisham, because, quite frankly as a bookseller, even with the results of his experimentation with many styles and genres beyond the legal thriller, his books sell without my needing to know and understand lovers of Grisham to "handsell" them. I simply need to know that Skipping Christmas is not like Playing for Pizza is not like The Street Lawyer.  It's not to say that I wouldn't want to read all of Grisham's books, but as the saying goes, "So many books, so little time." 

Atop that, I am skeptical about the ability of writers of adult fiction to write for children.  I am even more skeptical of the big name attraction to adults translating to the same popularity among buyers of children's books, be they adults or children.  Obviously, some have done well, most notably in recent times, Jamie Curtis, and to some extent, Julie Andrews.  They write for much younger children than the intended reader of Theodore Boone: kid lawyer.  In fact, then, one could say that the intended reader of Jamie Curtis's and Julie Andrews's books are much older.  With that in mind, it's certainly easier to write for the intended buyer of the books.

However, after hearing Grisham interviewed on NPR, I felt it important to read it for myself.  I liked how he said that this was the first time when writing, he had to keep his target reader in mind.  I wanted to see how we may need to handsell this new endeavor of his, as there is no indication that his adult popularity, any great reviews by NPR, nor with my efforts here, that anyone will buy this book.

This is a solidly decent book.  It even has little details that are important to children of a certain age, like how Theo rides his bike to school, meaning through what parking lots and streets and alleys, and what the adults are doing while everyone is in the kitchen on Saturday morning.  The kids seem real, not too smart, not too dull,  It's a good story, with a 21st century set-up of illegal immigration, divorce and homeless shelters fleshing out a tale of the time-honored value of doing the right thing.  This is not Harry Potter and good battling evil or Percy Jackson reliving Ancient Greece, but something more satisfyingly down-to-earth and quietly familiar.  One could say that the quiet is tense, almost menacing.  Perhaps that's what Grisham meant when he told in his interview that his editor reassured him that it's okay to scare children a little.  What's really scary at the age of twelve to fourteen is not the idea of ghosts or demons or witches, but that something familiar could turn out to be strange and menacing, like adults not behaving like the responsible citizens they are supposed to be -- so much likely in a child's realm of possibilities than being torn apart by a werewolf or hit by lightening.  And, while it's not very satisfying to end the story on a small (albeit very small) cliffhanger, because readers of all ages like closure, or at least the sequel near at hand, the ending is comfortably within the realm of possibilities, too.

Adults, you will enjoy this book, also, so buy it for your thirteen year-old and after he or she reads it, read it, too.  Or read it after the kid's in bed (or buy a second copy) so that you can discuss it together in real time.

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