Monday, August 23, 2010

Male Monday: The Young Chieftain

The Young Chieftain by Ken Howard 2010
Tamarind Books/Random House UK

Release Date: September 2, 2010

Rating: 3.5/5

IQ "Life either went too fast when you were having a good time, he reflected, or slowed to a crawl when you weren't." Jamie pg. 119

The day Jamie MacDoran's father dies, he must travel with his mother from their home in Los Angeles, to his father's homeland of Scotland. The island seems to be in the middle of nowhere, and Jamie's father did not tell his mother (Jamie's grandmother) that he married a Black woman and has a biracial son. This causes some issues. On top of it all, Jamie's father was Scottish chieftain of the island. Now the clan needs a new head and they can't agree on who it should be. Technically it should be Jamie, but he doesn't want it and the islanders don't trust him. There's a mysterious stone that leads true chieftains to an 'all seeing eye' and Jamie wants to find it. All Jamie wants is to be accepted by his Scottish family and maybe stumble upon this 'all seeing eye.' Is that too much to ask?

Ken Howard is a screenwriter and it shows in this novel. The action moves quickly, never allowing for a dull moment. The story ends with a dramatic flourish that is expected and yet the exact way it works out is unexpected. The author is determined to make sure the reader gets a feel for Scotland, emphasising how old the island of Doran is, and yet it's very beautiful with its lochs, boats and Scottish Games. He doesn't tell the reader, he shows the reader. The boys act like your average teenagers, the clowns who sit behind you in class. Their dialogue made me smile, especially concerning Scotland. Jamie and his friends Lester, Chico, and Jeroo don't know much about Scotland and they don't have much respect for the country either (which is sad). The boys really came off the page, never regulated to merely being a background character. The same with the Scottish people Jamie met, they all had somewhat murky pasts, that they gradually shared.

Something that really struck out at me (not in a good way) was how Jamie and his friends from L.A. talked. They used "reckon" and "cos." I don't know many American born teens (especially not born in American Black teens) who speak like that. It's understandable for Jamie since his father is from Scotland, but it was unrealistic for his friends. Also this is a more minor point, but the boys have basketball practice at the end of the year. Basketball season starts in late fall and really picks up in the winter. It ends in the spring. Unless they play a summer league (which is plausible). The crush bit was predictable but it's nice all the same.

The Young Chieftain starts off as realistic fiction and ends up reaffirming the wonder and magic of Scotland. The characters are strong and the villains are not uncharacteristically evil, just as the good characters struggle. The issue of Jamie's race is not ignored, he's the only Black person on the island of Doran (besides his mother) and this causes quite a stir. Not to mention the fact that he's observant and not at all shy. I'm not sure how accurate the depictions of Scotland and issues that clans have are, but they seemed authentic. Some want the island to modernize, others want it to maintain its traditional appeal. All want a clan leader to step forward and tell them what to do. This story does not grow tedious and if you are able to suspend your disbelief at the language used by Jamie and his friends, it flies by, so sit back and enjoy your trip to the island of Doran, in Scotland.

Disclosure: Received from Tamarind Books. A division of Random House UK that specializes in multicultural literature, yay! Thank you so very much :)


  1. I feel like I need to read this, because this whole clan thing is totally new to me. I mean I knew there were historical clans, which modern ancestors talk about, but had no idea there were still chieftans and that the clans still existed.

    The slang sounds very unAmerican, it must be one of the hardest things to write naturally when you come from a different country. Was it one of those little things that ends up bugging you tons (hate those things).

  2. @Jodie-The whole clan thing was new to me too and this was a nice intro. The author has lived in LA though, that was the odd thing. He lives in England and LA so I didn't understand why his slang sounded so off. It didn't actually bother me that much, especially since he doesn't spend much time in LA.

    By the way, Dark Goddess is really good! ahhh.

  3. This sounds great--I'm always looking for books for middle grade readers to review. You really gave me a feel for the book--and I love novels about Scotland!

  4. Hi Miss Attitude,
    and really thanks so much for your thoughtful review of my new novel THE YOUNG CHIEFTAIN which is published next week. You certainly seem to have honed in on the main story points and you are right, as a film-maker I did see the action as an unfolding movie.I'm glad it gripped you 'til the end! Thanks too to your other commentators. Just a couple of respectful points. Although I spend a good deal of my time in LA, I had all the LA slang checked out by a good friend who is a teacher in a mostly black high school in the city.
    And I certainly hear 'cos and 'reckon all the time there. Much harder is the Scots dialect - just try getting that one down! Anyhow, just wanted to say hi and thanks for a great website. I wanted Jamie, to be bi-racial because there is a real shortage of mixed-race heroes in our multi-cultural society.
    Oh, and if you have nothing better to do, you have a look at the YOUNG CHIEFTAIN 'trailers' on YouTube.
    Ken Howard

  5. @middleschool book reviews-I'm not sure if this book is being sold in the U.S. but it is a good read for middle school students :)

    @Mr. Howard-It's definitely obvious that you have an eye for action and suspense till the end =)

    I'm still skeptical though over the use of "cos" and "reckon." I've never been to L.A. and I know some of the slang is different from that in Chicago but in America they would say "cuz" and I'm not even sure what the substitue for reckon is. In the American south "reckon" would be used (my mom is from the South), but I'm just not sure that we would say "cos" or "reckon" in America, especially as a Black person. *shrugs*

    I actually thought 'cos' and 'reckon' was from Scotland or England ;)

    Thank you very much for writing a novel about a mixed-race hero where his bi-racial identity wasn't that big of a deal. It caused a few problems but I liked that it wasn't the main focus, it's mostly an adventure and magical story.

    The trailer is very well done.


I love to hear from you!! Thank you for sharing :) And don't be Anon, I try to always reply back and I like to know who I'm replying to ;)