Thursday, April 15, 2010

You'll spoil your supper

The Candy Shop War snuck up on me. I was prepared for [sigh] another middle-grade too-long fantasy with all the usual suspects (children with untested magic powers, villains intent on world domination, absent parents, bizarre creatures, etc.), instead I enjoyed a funny, adventurous riff on "don't take candy from strangers."

Four 10-year-olds (that's refreshing too, this age seems underrepresented in kid lit lately) offer to help out the kindly Belinda White, owner of the Sweet Tooth Ice Cream and Candy Shoppe, newly opened in Colson, California. In exchange for their help, she hands out free candy. Not only is this candy good, it enables them to fly. It helps them exact revenge on the school bullies. When adults eat it, they forget just about everything but their desire for more. Mrs. White promises the four all sorts of superpower-producing candy, if only they will do just a few more things for her -- jobs like breaking and entering, stealing, wiping someone's memories, even an exhumation. Nate, Pigeon, Summer and Trevor are soon in so deep, they can't figure out how to dig out.

Fortunately, in Brandon Mull's novel, there is one adult who is able to withstand the pleasures of Mrs. White's white fudge; but in the end even craggy magicians' enforcer John Dart can't come to their rescue. Nate travels back and forth in time to come up with the ingenious solution to defeat Mrs. White and rescue all his friends, just in the nick of time.

This novel takes off quickly (just like the four friends after eating some of those gravity-defying moon rocks) and pretty much doesn't let up for 10 hours. I didn't feel hammered by the nonstop action (although there was some kid-friendly grossology I could have done without), mostly because there was some wit and intelligence in the story as well. Nate's defeat of Mrs. White's megalomaniacal dreams was particularly clever ... I didn't see it coming!

The prologue of the novel is a tad confusing. It introduces the aforementioned John Dart, but all the other clues are really obscure. Dart doesn't show up again until the novel proper is quite far along (by which time you've forgotten whatever you learned in the prologue). I went back and listened to the prologue again once I'd finished the book, and -- in my opinion -- the book would have been fine without it.

The reader, Emily Janice Card, does a good job of keeping the complex story humming along. Despite the large cast of characters and the many, many things that happen to them during the story, I was never lost or confused (once the metaphorical white fudge kicked in and I managed to forget the prologue). Toward the end of the novel, our four heroes are scattered all over town -- in the clutches of various villains -- and Card neatly keeps the balls up in the air. I think I may have heard her narrate a brief section of Ender's Game a year or so ago, and I liked her work there. (And her father is Orson Scott Card [scroll to near the end].) The audiobook includes some fun music, appropriate to the nonstop nature of the novel.

This being children's literature, the author has promised a sequel, and a movie is "in development." (Actually, the entire time I was listening I was thinking that it had movie written all over it.) More important than any these sidebars: Here is a good, hefty book that you can safely put into the hands of voracious young readers. An excellent choice for that all-ages car trip as well!

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