Trell by Dick Lehr

Posted November 2, 2017 by Amber in Reviews / 2 Comments

Trell by Dick Lehr

Trell by Dick Lehr


Published by Candlewick Press on September 12th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult
Length: 320 pages Source: NetGalley

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From the co-author of Black Mass comes a gripping YA novel inspired by the true story of a young man's false imprisonment for murder -- and those who fought to free him.

On a hot summer night in the late 1980s, in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, a twelve-year-old African-American girl was sitting on a mailbox talking with her friends when she became the innocent victim of gang-related gunfire. Amid public outcry, an immediate manhunt was on to catch the murderer, and a young African-American man was quickly apprehended, charged, and -- wrongly -- convicted of the crime. Dick Lehr, a former reporter for the Boston Globe's famous Spotlight Team who investigated this case for the newspaper, now turns the story into Trell, a page-turning novel about the daughter of an imprisoned man who persuades a reporter and a lawyer to help her prove her father's innocence. What pieces of evidence might have been overlooked? Can they manage to get to the truth before a dangerous character from the neighborhood gets to them?

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from NetGalley and Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Romero Taylor is a wrongfully accused man.

He knows this, his wife knows this, and his daughter Van Trell Taylor knows this.  Everyone knows this, but nobody is speaking up about it.  Why not?  Because the crime he is accused of is horrific:  a twelve-year-old girl was shot.  Furthermore, someone is keeping people quite.

Van Trell is going to get down to the truth and get justice for her daddy.

This book is trying to tell an important story, but it’s doing it wrong.

This book is based on an actual case that author Dick Tell worked on when he was a correspondent for the Boston Globe.  The reporter character in the book – Clemens, a broken man – is inspired by himself.  This story about police intimidation and POC crime is, I think, trying to enlighten the public about the prejudice in law enforcement the way The Hate U Give does… only, it’s not working.

First of all, in turning this into a YA novel, it’s been dumbed down.  A lot.  We spend loads of time having legal and journalism terms explained to us.  Clemens likes to use slang which nobody understands, then he spends a paragraph explaining.  A friendship is created between two characters that had been enemies as a means to an end, the lawyer and the reporter go to a waterpark together to support Trell.  The dialect we see in the dialogue really bothers me, as the POC characters all speak with that sort of stereotypical accents and drop words, almost like they’re less educated.  I was a kid in the 90s, living in rural New Hampshire.  We’re a little north of Boston, maybe that was common in the Boston boroughs, but Trell goes to a prestigious private school and should be more eloquent.

The characters are sort of horribly unrealistic.

First of all, there’s Van Trell.  It took me halfway through the first chapter to realize Trell was a girl.  Then, as mentioned above, her dialect seemed completely unrealistic to her level of education.  She also has an infuriating magnetism where people are being disagreeable, then Trell appears from the shadows and gives them puppy eyes – now not only are they happy to help, but everyone is best friends.  WHY.

Then there’s Clemens.  Of all the voices, his should be the most solid, since he’s the author, right?  Wrong?  In a matter of pages this guy goes to being an ultimate grump mourning the loss of his son to an upbeat excited fatherly type who brings a box of donuts to the first meeting and always has a smile.  It just didn’t work.

Paul and Trell’s mother (“Shey-Shey” to just about everyone but the prison guard) are flat.  Trell’s father, the convicted Romero Taylor, isn’t much better.  Nora had potential, but slid into obscurity after the first 20% or so of the book.

Not a fan of this book.

It just… frustrated me.  Lehr’s got this great opportunity to talk about BLM and wrongful conviction and instead he turns it into a children’s book that doesn’t do the story justice.  He doesn’t capture the voice of a 14 y/o female POC at all.  It’s all too easy and too unrealistic to really be captivating.

If I hadn’t received this as a free ARC, I would have put it down, honestly.  You know the ending and you just don’t care about the journey.  It’s filled with “are you serious?” moments and “I’m pretty sure that’s not how it would go” moments.  This may have been a better story if it was aimed at adults and maybe told by #OwnVoices or at least by the author’s character since he included himself.  But it doesn’t work.  I don’t think it’s offensive, but it doesn’t work.

The Breakdown
Overall: two-half-stars


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2 responses to “Trell by Dick Lehr

    • Amber

      They can’t all be winners! 🙂

      It really is a bummer though, because you’re right – reading the blurb you get SUCH potential, but I felt it’s stumbling awkwardness but 4% and it was really disappointing. This type of story needs to be told, BUT it needs to be told better than this.