Book Review: Trial by Journal

Klise, Kate. Trial by Journal. Illus. M. Sarah Klise. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001.

Get ready for a trial unlike any Tyle County has ever seen. Sixth-grader Perry Keet is missing, and Bob White, his co-worker at Tyle Park Zoo, will stand trial for the alleged murder. But Keet’s disappearance is only the beginning of this legal thriller.

The real story is told by twelve-year-old Lily Watson, a classmate of Keet’s. Watson was selected to White’s jury because of a new law requiring a juvenile juror to serve if the case involves a child victim.

Part of Watson’s duty will be to listen objectively to the testimony of Tyleville’s wealthiest citizen, Rhett Tyle. His testimony is expected to be the key to White’s conviction.

White’s fate now rests in the hands of Watson and fellow jurors Fawn Papillon, Anna Conda, and other Tyleville locals, as they try to uncover the truth before it’s too late!

This book is one that I stumbled upon by accident. The library where I work was taking it out of circulation because it’s a beat up old paperback, and I was drawn in by the title at first. I’ve been a long-time fan of journaling, especially starting when I was a little older than Lily. I was also intrigued by the way the story is told through journal, but also court documents, the local newspaper, and even hidden notes about secret rendezvous (I am leaving that word singular because I won’t even pretend to know the plural).

There were quite a few problems with the logistics of the book, purely from an adult perspective. The fact that the jurors are familiar with the case, and especially the fact that Lily knew the boy who was murdered, would never be allowed in a “real” court room. The man who writes the opinion column in the local paper would never be allowed to submit articles referring to fellow jurors in the manner of, “I can’t tell you who it is, but she is a local recluse former actress… HINT HINT HINT!” (not a direct quote). And other little nit-picky things bothered me. But I kept reminding myself that it’s a story for children, and the details don’t have to be very realistic.

Looking at the book from a child’s perspective, I really enjoyed it. As Lily realizes there is more to the case than meets the eye, and that perhaps with some detective work she can figure out what really happened, I found myself looking for clues along with her and trying to figure it out myself. In fact, at the end (I won’t give anything away), I found my eyes starting to tear up just a little bit. Which really surprised me, since the whole time I just kept thinking about how implausible it all was, and how ridiculous the characters’ names are – Anna Conda, Perry Keet, “Buzz” Ard… almost everyone has animal names. Even the man who owns everything in town is Rhett Tyle – admittedly it took me longer than it should have to put the P in the middle to get “reptile.”

Overall this was an okay book, but I wouldn’t recommend it to an adult. The name puns get old really fast, and the clues that a child might gloss over on first read were pretty obvious to me. Even the illustrations help you decide who is good (pretty) and who is bad (ugly) long before Lily figures it out. I honestly don’t know if I would have read this when I was younger. I might have been interested in the fact that Lily keeps a journal, but I probably would have dropped it at the first mention of snakes.


There are a few other books I finished before this one, but I am numbering in order of reviews posted. At the moment I have 6 more books to review, so I am planning to write them in the next day or so and set them up to post every other day.