4 of 5 stars
Read from March 11 to 18, 2013
Excellent fantasy for middle schoolers.
I really enjoyed this book and it kept me entertained for nearly a week. Of course, the fact that the main character gets fantastic, nearly limitless powers is a fun element and the way Josh chooses to use his powers makes me wonder what I would do differently if I had powers like that.
The StoryTellers Club, an amusingly formal organization similar to the Toastmasters where members dress up in suits to camp out in one of the kid's back yard for their story telling finale, provides a clever twist. One of Josh's powers is activated when he tells stories, causing trouble early on when he tells a story about ancient spiders that once lived in the local swamps only to have them come to life during his story.
But it isn't all fun and games. His parents support him and try to teach him to use his powers for unselfish ends by having him volunteer at the hospital, probably my favorite part of the book, though it probably wasn't a good way to keep him safe from public attention. His activities quickly catch the attention of the media and eventually the government. Besides that, it bothers me that Josh can create people who end up doting on him, cleaning house or acting as handyman caretaker for the family. After the first time, I expected his parents to tell him that was unacceptable; it's what I would have done, too close to creating indentured servants. Sure, they were happy servants, he built that into them when he made them, but I still think it was an abuse of power that his parents should have discouraged (and they definitely didn't).
Underlying the story, the city of Baton Rouge is on fire as serial arsonists targets buildings across the city and Josh's and his friend Troy's fathers are constantly called away to fight them. It's a mystery which I don't think is ever completely explained, although the culprits are identified. Perhaps in the next book. I don't think the mystery of the fires or the casual approach Josh and Troy took to figure out who was responsible is as much the focus of the book as the description implies. It supported some of the things going on, provided some element of danger, but failed to really drive the characters in any way until the very end, and even then it was kind of out of nowhere.
Overall, I liked the story, enjoyed the juvenile interplay between the characters, and loved Josh's quirky creations and good deeds. I think this book would be a good bet for someone in the range of 12-15 years old.