Thursday, 5 September 2013

Book Review: Doon by Carey Corp & Laurie Langdon

Review by Iola Goulton

Amazon Summary

Veronica doesn't think she's going crazy. But why can't anyone else see the mysterious blond boy who keeps popping up wherever she goes?

When her best friend, Mackenna, invites her to spend the summer in Scotland, Veronica jumps at the opportunity to leave her complicated life behind for a few months. But the Scottish countryside holds other plans. Not only has the imaginary kilted boy followed her to Alloway, she and Mackenna uncover a strange set of rings and a very unnerving letter from Mackenna's great aunt---and when the girls test the instructions Aunt Gracie left behind, they find themselves transported to a land that defies explanation.

Doon seems like a real-life fairy tale, complete with one prince who has eyes for Mackenna and another who looks suspiciously like the boy from Veronica's daydreams. But Doon has a dark underbelly as well. The two girls could have everything they've longed for... or they could end up breaking an enchantment and find themselves trapped in a world that has become a nightmare.

My Review

Doon is apparently based on the well-known musical, Brigadoon, which is so well-known that I’ve never heard of it. Maybe it’s well-known to Americans and Gleeks. I decided not to read the Wikipedia plot summary and to let Doon tell its own story, although that turned out not to matter: Doon bears little resemblance to the musical.

The story is told in the first person from the alternating points of view of Veronica and McKenna. First person present tense is pretty normal for YA, but it does rely on having a likeable narrator (and most have a single narrator). Veronica was the main narrator, and I found her much more likeable than McKenna, whose narrative contained constant references to Broadway musicals (Sacred Stephen Schwartz!) and current pop culture. It got old fast, and will date almost as quickly.

Parts of the story felt contrived, particularly the final showdown (which, in hindsight, is symbolic of Jesus’s death on the cross for our sins, the final battle of Armageddon, and our ultimate destiny as His bride. If anything, this makes it worse. Making teens figure out the symbolism underlying a piece of writing should be a crime, especially when that writing is supposed to be entertainment).

I initially thought these aspects might have been parts of the plot of the original musical that just hadn’t translated well to 2013, but no. It felt as though the authors had written themselves into a corner, so they invented some new magic to get them out (at least JK Rowling had the skill and foresight to foreshadow her miracle magic. In Doon, it just appears). This shows a lack of concern for world-building (or perhaps a lack of understanding of the importance of good world-building in fantasy).

There are a number of other weaknesses in the writing, like redundancy, repetition, telling rather than showing (particularly with the pages of history of Brigadoon), excessive use of dialect, and insufficient difference between the voices of the two main characters (I kept having to flip back to see who was the current viewpoint character). It’s also annoying (and atypical of YA) that the first half of the book is largely driven by narrative rather than dialogue and action. It drags. However, bad writing hasn’t stopped either Twilight or Fifty Shades from selling stratospheric quantities …

Doon has attracted a lot of attention: it’s the first book in Zondervan’s new crossover Young Adult line, Blink. Over 3000 people have marked it as ‘Want To Read’ on Goodreads (compared to 300 for the next Dee Henderson novel). Most early reviews are positive—the negative ones are scathing, claiming the story is full of shallow characters (true) and cliché writing (also true). I’ve looked at the other books read and rated by these reviewers, and it seems they are the people Zondervan are trying to reach with this novel.

Will Doon reach secular YA readers? I don’t think so. It’s not edgy enough. Yes, Veronica has an awful home life, but the story of Doon isn’t how she deals with normal teenage problems. It’s how she escapes into another world and meets a handsome Prince who (if she can catch him) will love and cherish her forever. Even though they’ve only had a handful of superficial conversations before she decides she loves him.

And ‘crossover’ or not, I’m not convinced that a book where teenagers drink beer and champagne (albeit legally), where a lead character practices yoga (including positions such as Downward Dog, and practices ‘pushing negative thoughts out and drawing in the positive’) is appropriate in a book published by a Christian imprint, ‘crossover’ or not. Nor does language such as ‘screw that’, ‘what the heck’, ‘mother cusser’, or references to playing for the other team. Seriously. Adding a few almost-swear words isn’t going to make the book cool enough for the Cuddlebuggery crowd (who hate Fifty Shades because they’ve read it, not because they’ve read about it).

What about Christian teens? Will they enjoy Doon? If they’ve been raised on a steady diet of bonnet fiction and Amish romance, then Doon will seem fresh and edgy. But I’m not sure if they’ll get to read it. Those parents who wouldn’t let their children read Harry Potter or Twilight would be advised to avoid Doon for similar reasons. And if they haven’t read Twilight, they’re not going to understand references like “his conflicted Edward Cullen act would hook her faster than meth”.

Yes, there’s no sex in Doon. There’s no sexual abuse, no teen pregnancy scares, no drug-taking, and the only drinking is legal. But there is more to being a Christian than that. There’s stuff like being "in the world but not of the world". And having a personal faith in Jesus. Neither Veronica nor McKenna has any personal faith in anything but themselves, and the Doon villagers sing praises to the Protector, the one who cast the enchantment on the village. It’s implied they are praising God, but it’s not clear. The Protector who can cast stronger spells than the witch could be any witch, wizard or warlock.

Young Adult fiction isn’t about selling books to teenagers. It’s about writing books that speak to them. And speaking to them means talking about their problems.

I wanted to love Doon. I wanted it to breach the gap between saccharine Christian bonnet novels and edgy YA while still retaining a sense of a Christian world view. It has a fabulous cover and apparently has a six-figure marketing effort behind it. I liked most of the characters; I liked the story well enough. But I didn’t love it. I think it is let down by the writing, and it didn’t meet my hopes and expectations of what a YA novel should be, let alone a crossover.

Doon is trying to sell to teens, not speak to them.

Thanks to Blink (Zondervan) and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon at their blog.

Review by Iola Goulton. I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog.

Remember, each comment you post this week gives you the opportunity to win one of sixteen books from some of the best Australian and New Zealand Christian authors. See Monday's post for details - and remember to comment!

What do you think about the concept of 'crossover fiction'? Will you read Doon?

25 comments:

  1. What a thorough review. I look forward to seeing any novels that do successfully cross-over and reach this market. It can't be the easiest thing in the world to do, but then the first step must surely be sticking to rules such as 'show don't tell?'
    Thanks for the review Iola.

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    1. Agreed, Catherine. I think editors in Christian publishing houses need to be more aware of concepts like 'point of view' and 'show don't tell'. Personally I don't think these are negotiable issues if we want to get beyond the 'Christian enclave'.

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  2. I do remember Brigadoon but then I loved the musicals and this one was whimsical with Brigadoon a place that was only awake one day every hundred years.
    Reading your review I know this wouldn't be a book I would enjoy. I Love the cover When I first saw it I was captivated by it.
    Thanks for the review

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    1. I loved the movie too, Jenny. Started my serious crush on Robert Goulet. Loved him in Camelot too. Not to mention the tv series, Blue Light. Now that was how to create a misunderstood hero!

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  3. Hmmm, a very thought provoking review. Makes me think about the whole crossover issue even more. :)

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    1. Doon makes me think 'crossover' isn't something that can be manufactured. If a book is going to make the switch from those who read Christian fiction to those who don't, that has to come from the readers.

      The idea that I think has potential is what Lynne Stringer and Michelle Dennis Evans are doing: writing for the regular Young Adult market, but writing from a Christian viewpoint.

      I suspect it comes to motive: do you want to write crossover as a way of reaching people with the gospel, or as a way of making more money than JK Rowling?

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    2. Hi Iola,
      In what sense is 'crossover' being used here? The discussion seems to suggest it means something other than what I know it to be.

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    3. Ask Zondervan?

      My interpretation is they are trying to publish books that will get shelved in the YA section of the bookshop, not the Christian section, and will appeal to people who don't usually buy Christian fiction. Zondervan say the Blink books will be hopeful and won't be as dark as usual YA fiction but will touch on 'real issues'.

      Zondervan say, "We understand that librarians and educators need to get their hands around our books, and this will help". So it's about helping HarperCollins sell books. They are not specifically calling it crossover - that's what the bloggers called it. I must say, I've just looked at their website and it's underwhelming.

      http://blinkyabooks.com/about/

      What's your understanding of crossover fiction?

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    4. I've just been browsing more online ... it would appear that 'crossover fiction' used to mean a book that managed to bridge the gap between MG or YA and adult readers, like The Hunger Games or the Harry Potter series.

      It seems it's now being used more widely than that, and has been adopted by the CBA to mean books from a Christian perspective that do well in the general market (The Shack being an example).

      Merriam-Webster's has several definitions of crossover, including "to reach a broader audience by a change of medium or style" and "an instance of breaking into another category".

      An example of the continuing evolution of the English language, perhaps?

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    5. I find it hard. If I want to reach people with the gospel, how do I do that without mentioning the gospel? If I merely incorporate good morals and virtues, that doesn't necessarily point anyone to Jesus. They could just as easily go searching for those good morals and virtues in another belief system. To me, I need to point to Jesus, so how do I do that and not limit my audience to Christian readers. Dilemma!

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  4. Thanks for the thorough review, Iola. Really important points made for all attempts at crossover novels. Also a great standard set for reviews. I hope they'll all be so helpful and honest.

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    1. Thank you, Carol. I will say I'm not expecting all reviews to be this long - mine certainly aren't!

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  5. Wow! What a review! This will certainly be a hard act to follow, Iola.
    I enjoyed the musical but the book, Noon does not appeal to me.
    Hazel Barker

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    1. I have to agree with you, Hazel. It's put me right off.

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  6. I have actually seen the movie Brigadoon, and it seems a bit weird that it would be adapted into a YA book.
    I certainly don't plan to read it.

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    1. I read the plot summary of Brigadoon on Wikipedia, and it seems as though Doon has taken the basic idea of a hidden village, but not much else.

      Thanks for visiting, and thanks for commenting!

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  7. Now that you mention it, I remember seeing the old musical Brigadoon on TV when I was kid, and my mother telling me it was about a weird old Scottish place that kept disappearing. I'm sure you know much more about its history than I do, now.
    I like your review and I'm sure I'll find the exact same issues you mention, but my curiosity is piqued anyway. Crossover YA literature with 3000 people wanting to read it. I'm curious :)

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    1. Read it! I'd be interested in your views. If you're reading it knowing the issues you might be able to enjoy the story for its own sake.

      As I read it, I found myself asking, 'Would I be comfortable recommending this book to a Christian teenager?', and the answer was probably no. But I'd have no problem recommending it to a teen who has read Twilight, Harry Potter etc. Even though it's not overtly Christian, it's got a better moral centre that most general market YA fiction.

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  8. 'Doon is trying to sell to teens, not speak to them.' Ouch... :) Not good when the 'sell' robs the reader of a good escape.

    Thanks for the in depth review, Iola.

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  9. Iola, thanks for your detailed and thought provoking review. On the question of crossover fiction between the Christian and general market, I think fantasy is one genre that lends itself to doing this, more so than other genres eg. romance. Who can explain why a book 'breaks out' and 'crosses over', other than the book hitting the market at the right time when a wide audience is interested and engaging with its content.

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    1. If the Goodreads figures are anything to go by, Doon has the potential to break out - it certainly has the marketing budget behind it.

      But, as an author of Christian fiction, wouldn't you rather your book got people thinking about and talking about God, not some imaginary village?

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  10. I agree that this is an intriguing and honest review, Iola. I have read the Harry Potter books and the Shack but not Fifty Shades of course. What kept me reading those books was the strong characterisation and story so that I cared about the folk, wanted to know "what happened next" to them. They are simply page-turning stories. Something I've been trying to come to grips with in my reading since being multi-published is that I realised some time ago I was actually reading too much as a "writing professional" and not a reader.I've been a book-worm for more than 60 years. Now I am being jarred out of the story too much because of those "rules" like point of view etc being broken. Brandilyn Collins, a best-selling, award winning author of great Christian fiction declares "the story is what matters the most". I've discovered that even when the POV, dialogue or too much narrative may be there, if the story and characters are intriguing enough I just have to keep reading. I believe this is why an adult like myself enjoyed those Harry Potter books so much that were aimed at much younger readers.

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