In this MG fantasy, Josh starts off living a pretty ordinary life in Louisiana. Fishing. Cicadas. Days with his cat. I loved the vivid descriptions. You can really taste the swamp air, see cat hair tangled in fishing line, and picture the charred pancakes in the kitchen. Ah, sisters. I really liked the portrayal of dyslexia, and some of the real stressors a boy Josh’s age might go through, like having a firefighter father burned as an arsonist plagues the area. Josh suddenly finds he has strange powers and uses them to help his friends and himself. This results in some crazy stuff like Civil War soldiers, and dragons! It also leads to some comical scenarios. Author Bruce Arrington had some really funny passages, and moments of hilarious dry, wit. This lighthearted read was fun. There were just a few scenes where I wondered if paring back might have made for even tighter pacing, however, this was a small quibble and readers who enjoy humor will appreciate this fine tale!
Josh Anvil is a teenage boy just trying to get through life until he mysteriously obtains some extraordinary abilities. While these abilities allow him to create wonderous things, they oftentimes bring about their own set of problems, including a dragon he speaks into existence during English class. Some people around him are impressed, while others are frightened. It’s a heavy burden for any teenager, but especially for a boy who isn’t exactly popular. Josh goes through the normal pains and troubles of a teenager-crushing on the most popular girl in school and dealing with bullies-but he also has deeper issues like dealing with dyslexia and a best friend whose parents are in the midst of a nasty divorce.
The book is sometimes humorous. I especially loved the part in the beginning about Josh’s struggle to go fishing and the unending battle with breaking poles and an angry cat. It also grows very serious at times, like when Josh is “sentenced” to community service at the hospital by his parents after he gets into trouble. I especially loved some of the descriptions of places and actions. The writing was at times reminiscent of Ray Bradbury (The Halloween Tree in particular). Because of that, I seriously considered giving the book 5 stars, even though it was a little long for a YA book. The only thing that changed my mind about it was the explanation of where Josh’s powers came from near the end of the book. I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say, the genre it seemed to turn to left me disappointed.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I think that Bruce Arrington shows tremendous promise as a bestselling author with wonderful descriptive powers and amazing ability to turn a phrase.
Josh Anvil is your typical American teenager until something happens. He ventures out on his canoe trying to figure out how to tell his family that he's leaving school but, after he is found unconsious, he suddenly realizes that he has the power to alter the nature of reality just by making up the story. But even though he can conjure dragons, a floating island paradise and a housekeeping staff for his parents, he must contend with all the trials and tribulations that come with being teenager including sports, being popular and trying to get the cute girl to go to homecoming. Also there's someone setting fire to his entire town. That's also happening. Josh Anvil and the Cyprus Door is a fun, light-hearted romp through a time in a person's life where even superpowers don't seem to help all that much. It has almost a Saturday Morning Cartoon feel to it as the rest of the world oddly takes the appearance of dragons and miracle healing in stride. Josh has to navigate their first few months of high school with only the occasional dragon attack that burns down the cafeteria. The adults are mostly clueless, the teachers are completely off their nut (which is probably close to reality) and Josh and his friends are just trying to make sense of the world which is getting harder as things get weirder. There are some tense, action-packed scenes where Josh and his best friend, Troy, encounter some real danger but even those have a touch of light-hearted playfulness to them. A couple of things stood out for me. First, the narrator, at times, tries to get a little too clever at times. Most off the time it adds to the light, playful mood of the novel, it sometimes crosses into obnoxious and very occasionally makes some scenes hard to understand. Second the story doesn't so much build toward the ending as much as the story meanders for a while until the ending just happens. I won't go into too much detail to avoid spoilers other then to say that the whole question of who or what is setting fires to half of Baton Rouge is left in the background until the very end, which is strange because it appears to be a centeral conflict of the book but it is only addressed a couple times before the big climax. For me personally this a three star book, but I will give it four because a lot of what put me off was personal preference. I'm just not much a fan of YA especially when it centers a lot around high school antics, the mood and tone often annoyed me and I had trouble getting over the idea that dragons suddenly appeared and the entire population didn't misplace their poo poo. That being said, I can see why the author made the choices he did, the writing is solid and I could see a much younger version of myself digging the crap out of this book. It is a fun, sometimes slightly irreverent, highly playful, book that would appeal to younger readers or anyone looking for that light energy in their life.