Last year, I exchanged manuscripts with Braden Bell. He read an early rendition of Time Gangsters while I read a previous version of The Kindling. I found the book to have an original twist on magic involving middle school age kids and it was a blast to read. When he asked for people to review the final version of the book for him, I gladly volunteered. Now, some people can read the same book over and over again and still enjoy it. I don't, normally. But The Kindling was so much fun that I didn't mind reading it again so soon. I usually like to put ten or more years between readings of the same book, which I guess that means I'm about due for another reading of The Lord of the Rings.
Braden mixes humor and adventure well in this novel. He also has developed a new twist on a magic system that makes sense and brings the kids interesting powers. It starts off with one boy, Conner Dell, accidentally accessing his magic powers by setting another boy's shorts on fire. Joining him in this adventure is his twin sister, Lexa, and her friend Melanie Stephens (nice last name, by the way. No relation). Their normal lives are soon disrupted when a creepy guy they call 'the stalker' shows up and causes weird things to happen. Even weirder is the reaction of the teachers at their school, who might be helping or hindering the stalker. The kids eventually learn that there are two powerful forces that have been at odds for centuries: the Magi and the Darkhands (take a guess which side is good and which is evil).
There were some fun characters in the story, too. My favorite was Dr. Timberi, who is the choir teacher and musical director. I could tell that Braden put part of his heart and soul into this person. The kids also all have distinct characters with good strengths and weaknesses.
This novel had all the things I like about books: fun, lighthearted, adventurous, free of language and 'questionable' situations, and it places people in positions where they have to dig in deep to overcome their problems. I can easily recommend this book to any middle grade reader and above without any reservations.
One complaint, though. Why did the adult who turned out to be the biggest pain in the neck have to be Mr. Stephens? Mr. Stephens should be the nice guy; a kind, easy-going, gentle, and rational type of personality. Oh well, he must be an English Stephens. My Stephens ancestors came from Prussia.