26 August 2013

Review: Doon by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon

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.

BFFs Veronica and McKenna have travelled to Scotland for a summer vacation following their high school graduation. Veronica keeps having visions of a blonde hottie (her word) in a kilt who introduces himself as Jamie (why are fictional Scots always called Jamie?).

The girls find two rings which transport them to the magical village of Brigadoon, which normally appears for only one day every hundred years. But they arrive two weeks before the bridge is supposed to open, so are imprisoned as witches—by Prince Jamie, the boy in Veronica’s vision. Veronica is confused, as Jamie doesn’t appear to recognise her, and virtually ignores her. McKenna, on the other hand, befriends Duncan, Jamie’s handsome younger brother. They must stay in the village until the bridge opens in two weeks—if they can survive that long.

I’m not sure what Americans find so attractive about Scotsmen. I have bad news: they don’t actually wear kilts any more. And maybe I’m a little too married, but I never noticed any ‘hotties’ on any of my visits (although that could be because everyone was bundled in layers of clothing. Even in summer). Nor did I notice any native Scots who could be described as ‘bronzed’ (not that I could see under their jeans and hoodies). I guess Doon’s bronzed hotties in kilts prove Brigadoon is a magical place.

Doon 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 (Sacred Stephen Schwartz!), whose narrative contained constant references to Broadway musicals 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), 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. Will Doon reach secular YA readers? I don’t think so. It’s not edgy enough. 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.

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 like 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. I liked most of the characters; I liked the story well enough. But I didn’t love it. 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 novel. 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

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