Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Judge and Jury: The Lemonade Crime by Jacqueline Davies

It had happened just last week. Right in the middle of that heat wave. They'd all been at Jack's house. All the guys--Paul and Ryan and Kevin and Malik and Scott--were playing pool basketball. Evan had $208 in the pocket of his shorts. It was more money than he'd ever seen in his whole life. He'd left his shorts folded on the bed in Jack's bedroom while they all went swimming. But then Scott got out to go to the bathroom. And a minute later he came running out of the house, saying he had to go home right away. And when Evan went back in the house to get dressed, the money was gone.

Two Hundred and eight dollars! That was the sum total of the money he and his sister Jessie had made all summer, competitors in rival lemonade stands in the hot sun, the lemonade war between him and Jessie that they had just resolved, agreeing to share their profits.

And now Scott is bragging to everyone that he has a new X Box 20/20, not even yet on the market, that his mom had gotten through her Japanese business connections. It seems an open and shut case. As legal-minded Jessie puts it, Scott had the opportunity and the means, and now his motive is clear. It's an open and shut case.

Still, Scott denies any guilt, and the dispute between Evan and Scott causes a split among their friends. The whole fourth grade has become two camps in the throes of a crime and punishment drama.

At last Jessie takes things into her rational hands and manages to set up a real trial set on the playground after school, with an impartial judge and jury of peers drawn by lots. She will represent her brother, and she is sure her evidence will sway the jury. But Scott refuses her offer of counsel, and insists he will be his own attorney. Then Megan, Jessie's best friend, insists on making the trial fair by pleading Scott's case, that he should be acquitted on the basis that the evidence against him is purely circumstantial. Jessie loses the case and, it seems, her best friend as well.

But Evan is angry at the injustice of it all and challenges Scott to a trial by ordeal on the basketball court--seven points, sudden death, no ref, no fouls, winner take all--and if Scott is defeated, he is presumed guilty.

And does Evan win that game! Scott is humiliated, hands and knees and nose bloodied, his only revenge kicking the ball into the swampy woods beside the playground for Evan to search for. Still Evan should feel justified. He is the winner, right? Then why does he feel like he's a loser?

In her sequel to the top-selling The Lemonade War (The Lemonade War Series), Jacqueline Davis's, The Lemonade Crime (Houghton Mifflin, 2011), is a tightly woven exploration into the fine points beyond legal justice, of what right and wrong mean, set in a believable milieu of fourth-grade social relationships. The author's well-constructed plot manages to see justice done in a way that also finds a place for atonement and forgiveness. Although the two books are best read in sequence, this newest one can stand alone, thanks to Davis's skill in exposition in the early chapters. It's a great read for middle elementary students, with strong boy and girl protagonists, and one which also gives the reader something to think about all the way to the final paragraph.

Booklist, in a rare starred review, says ..."this involving and, at times, riveting chapter book has something to say and a deceptively simple way of saying it."

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