Sunday, July 31, 2011

Happiness is...a good book. (Summer Reading edition #35)

Trial By Journal
Author: Kate Kilise
Illustrator: M. Sarah Klise
Pages: 238
Age Range: 9+
Published: 2001
Genre: Juvenile Fiction/Epistolary Novel
Cover Score: **
Overall Grade: ****
Rating: G

Thanks to a newly instated law, any trial that concerns a child victim must have a child on the jury and 12 year old Lily Watson is the first lucky kid to serve. A classmate, Perry Keet, disappeared from his volunteer job at the local zoo and a reclusive co-worker, Bob White is on trial for Perry’s murder. When she finds out she’ll have to go to summer school to make up the time she’s missed (nearly 6 weeks) while doing her civic duty, she pleads to her teacher for the chance to do a report on her experiences instead.  Her teacher, Mr. Holmes, agrees and the book is a compilation of her journals as well as the journals and notes from other jurors, court sketches and evidence, newspaper articles, and more.

Mr. Rhett Tyle, the town’s wealthy tycoon and owner of practically everything is distraught over the horrible events that allegedly took place in his zoo and vows to do everything in his power to see justice done. But he’s also a bit distracted by the hoopla that begins when his female gorilla begins painting masterpieces in her cage. Suddenly the entire nation is focused on the tiny town of Tyleville and its talented primate. And when words start showing up in the paintings a Charlotte’s Web sort of madness takes over threatening to outshine the murder trial.

Things don’t quite add up. Bob White is a sad and peculiar character but nothing backs up the idea that he could be a murderer. The other jurors (a quirky and motley crew in their own rights) are divided in their thoughts about the facts and testimonies and there are several gaping holes and curious incidents that keep everyone guessing. Lily is the only one in a position to unravel the mystery thanks to her past interactions with Perry and her willingness to step outside the lines a bit. She also comes to accept herself and make some unlikely new friends in the process.

There are allusions to other books and stories, puns and plays on words galore (check out a few of these names for a start; Ed U. Caytor, Ken Airy, Maggie Pie) and subtle clues throughout that an astute reader could pick up on to help them piece together the mystery. There are a few technicalities (the minority clause, obvious conflicts of interest like the gossip columnist who is serving on the jury but is allowed to continue writing his column even in the sequestration) but there are some actual insights into the workings of the judicial system. It’s silly and entertaining and clever. A great read.

The author and illustrator are sisters and have collaborated on several other books, most of them in the same vein (silly epistolary novels rather than straight narrative fiction) and all thoroughly entertaining.  My favorites are the Regarding The… series.

Epistolary novels, those composed of letters or journal entries usually (though more modern books have used text messages and emails, movie scripts, TV show transcripts, faxes, newspaper articles, ticket stubs, memos and more) have always been one of my favorite kinds of books to read. I could wax rhapsodic over them for pages and pages but I’ll spare you all. But if you haven’t read any I cannot urge you enough to do so. If you prefer an adult book to a juvenile one there are a few exceptional examples you could try. A few of my favorites are The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, These is My Words, 84 Charring Cross Road, and A Woman of Independent Means. Do you enjoy reading books that fall outside the typical fiction/non-fiction format? Any you could recommend? I’d love to hear from you!

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