I’m becoming a real fan of Brandon Mull. He writes some of the most mature mid-grade children’s fiction out there–and by “mature” I don’t mean “pushing the envelope.” I mean he assumes his readers are reasonably intelligent, and doesn’t go for the easy cliche just because he can get away with it. (There’s a writers podcast I listen to regularly, and they often point out you can get away with cliches in children’s fiction because they are not well-enough read at that age to recognize the cliche.)
But whether Mull gives his children readers more credit than some, or because he knows that often their parents will be reading it to their children, he doesn’t take the easy way out. For example, in “The Candy Shop War,” he takes the time to deal with one of the classic failings in children’s literature: Where are the parents? But I digress.
“The Candy Shop War” is the story of four children; Nate, Trevor, Summer, and Pigeon. Nate is new in town, and quickly meets and befriends the other three. The day school starts they find a candy shop has opened in their small town. Soon they find, however, that this candy shop is run by a magician who can make candies that bestow magical abilities. And she needs their help.
There is a magical item hidden in the town, and the magician, Mrs. White, wants to find it. Sinhe supplies the children with magical candy in exchange for their help. But as the tasks become more and more questionable the children start to wonder if they’re doing the right thing.
There is plenty of opportunity for cliche, but Mull instead tackles much of it head-on. Where most novels for kids just conveniently have the kids’ parents be entirely clueless and largely not present for no apparent reason. Mull takes time to set it up, getting much of the town addicted to Mrs. White’s magical fudge that turns adults largely apathetic about anything out of the ordinary.
Mull also takes the time to provide two separate reasons for why the magicians need the help of children, and weaves the reason closely into the plot. He also makes things less than black-and-white as to who the real villain(s) are, and who can be trusted. His take on time-travel is also one of the more unique I’ve seen in awhile.
One of Mull’s strengths is his ability to introduce plot twists, but in such a way that they make sense. While some are communicated early, in many cases the reader starts to catch wind of them just before they happen. And the resolution to their final predicament is ingenious. Everything was communicated before, and nothing is contrived. Yet I didn’t see it coming.
I recommend this book as one both kids and adults can enjoy. The story is intelligent, well-paced, and entertaining. There is a reason why Mull’s novels become best-sellers. He is an excellent storyteller.