On a trip to Scotland, an American teenager and his dog fight an otherworldly battle between good and evil in this YA adventure.
Paul Wonder, 13, lives in Venice Beach, California, with his father, Noah, his aunt Rue, and his grandmother Bernice; his mother, Rebekah, died of cancer when he was 7. Magic, Paul’s golden retriever, became part of the family after mysteriously showing up in Paul’s bed three years ago. Only Paul has seen the dog’s eyes turn neon yellow and its fur turn sparkling gold at certain times, as when Magic saved him from a car accident. The family is deeply involved in Bible study, prayer, and church, but Paul shares a taste for adventure with Rue, who’s a police detective. When Noah, a filmmaker, announces plans to bring Paul, Rue, Bernice, and Magic to Scotland for his next job, Paul is thrilled: maybe he’ll see the Loch Ness monster! He has a great time sightseeing and enjoying Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival as well as making new, teenage friends, although one kid—ominously named Judas—scares him. Judas has a goth style and a monstrous, black dog named Goliath who seems as demonic as Magic seems angelic. When the crew gets to Loch Ness, Magic shows just how protective—and magical—a dog can be. In this debut novel, Gene captures Paul’s young-teenage point of view well, including his excitement about traveling, his love for his dog, his budding interest in girls, and how he misses his mother. Some details are unnecessarily repeated, but the book does give solid information about Scotland generally, Edinburgh specifically, and local tourist activities. The book’s title may lead readers to expect a Loch Ness–focused story, but most of the action takes place in Edinburgh; the characters don’t even reach the lake until the final five chapters. Also, although a few scary moments enliven things along the way, the book’s final confrontation is badly underdescribed: Magic’s battle is “amazing”—and then, in the next sentence, it’s over.
Good characterization, but the adventures could have used more excitement.