Friday, December 11, 2009

Rejected: The Door Within by Wayne Thomas Batson

Ugh, says it's 10 degrees F outside, and feels like -1. Maybe winter's onset is chilling my heart and numbing my patience. I make this excuse because I'm about to rip on a book. Those of you who know me personally (and all three of you are following this blog do) are aware that I can be critical at times. I suppose it's no surprise, then, that some of my posts will be less than positive. This morning, you'll get a first taste. Hope you like the flavor.

So there's your warning. Nice people, avert your eyes. Now, on with the show...

Disclaimer: I am writing this "rejection" (not a review, since I didn't even come close to finishing the book) from the perspective of an adult. I am fully aware that this book is aimed at a younger audience (Amazon cites ages 9-12), and so kids that age are much less likely to be irked by the problems I noticed. However, really good YA fiction has appeal to readers of all ages. And if you're gonna write a Christian allegory, you had better believe you'll be getting older readers.

I wanted to like Wayne Thomas Batson's The Door Within. I really did. Even when it felt a bit off and confusing during the prologue, I cut the book some slack. It was, after all, a dream sequence. Authors describe dreams in myriad ways, and in real life, dreams are almost always esoteric and vague. So it's possible Batson meant for the reader to feel disoriented. (I know, it's a stretch.  See?  I started out nice.)

But after reading three-and-a-half chapters more, I couldn't continue. Too many inconsistencies, too little character and background detail, annoying writing quirks. It all adds up to a book that reads awkwardly and frustrates, rather than compels, the reader.

In the first few pages, we meet Aidan, who has just moved unwillingly with his parents out to his grandfather's house in Colorado. Grampin (as he is so oddly named) is getting too old and weak to care for himself. One day, Aidan decides to explore the basement he has feared all these years, and by some twist(er) of sparkly blue magic, chances upon a collection of old scrolls chronicling the history of the kingdom of Alleble. Aidan rushes to his room and hungrily pours over its contents. He becomes enraptured by the detail and realism that he finds within this tale of a fantasy land...

... and that's as far as I got, before I became too jaded to turn the page again.

The book is riddled with inconsistencies. Aidan is in high school (16, I believe), and yet, the tantrum he throws at his father and the way he talks to his medieval figurines makes him sound like he might have cleared the sixth grade. Also, Aidan's an obvious nerd, given that he holds conversations with pewter fantasy figurines. And yet, we learn that at his old school, the most popular guy there chose to become Aidan's best friend. There is no plausible explanation why. No "they grew up together as neighbors" or "they went to the same church" or "they shared a love of fantasy books or Renaissance festivals." It had just happened. C'mon, this is high school, people! Unless some magic spell or serious blackmail is being employed here, a friendship like that would never exist.

Part of that inconsistency seems to stem from lack of detail and background of Batson's suite of core characters. Now I'm not saying that the author should have interrupted his plot with long, expository passages about a character's personal history (as was done in another book I read). But I found Watson to be too miserly in his disclosure of character detail. Aidan is the star of the book, even from the prologue, and yet, after reading almost four chapters, I still don't have a clue as to basic physical features, like height, eye color, hair color, etc. The only thing I recall from those pages is that he is overweight, and that wasn't even revealed until well into chapter two! As for the rest of the cast, I know little about their history and nothing about how they look. Well, I know that Grampin is in a wheelchair. That's it.

Of course, for me, what bothered me most were some of Watson's writing "ticks" that made me stumble through certain pages and paragraphs. I will preface this point of criticism by admitting that there are some sparks of great imagery peppered throughout those pages I read (likening an evil knight's cloak to a gray wing was probably my favorite).

But there were a couple of quirks that I couldn't get over. One was the excessive use of referring to Aidan as "Aidan." It popped up far too often, even in passages where Aidan was the only subject as far as the eye could see. I would've at least expected "he" or "him" to be thrown in more often; seeing "Aidan" so many times was a bit jarring. The other tick that made me laugh/cry/puke was Watson's archaic use of the word "for" as a substitute for "because." "For she was not home," "For he had never," and on and on. He used "for" in that way three times in two paragraphs. Totally bugged. Shouldn't be used that way. For it looks awkward in modern prose. See what I mean?

Anyway, I've ranted far too long on this. Apologies to any Watson fans out there. I'm sure many of you would argue that I haven't read enough to really appreciate the story. It's a somewhat valid argument, but at the same time, if a book doesn't engross me from the beginning, I'm inclined to skip it. For there are plenty of other books out there that do accomplish that feat.

The upside in all of this? I'm now down to just three books to read in 27 days. :)

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