This middle school/young adult fantasy story revolves around Josh, a fourteen year old boy living in contemporary Louisiana. He hates school, likes telling stories and loves the swamp surrounding his home. He also likes taking chances, often endangering his life and others' lives throughout the book. His dyslexia makes him feel like a freak, influencing some of his decisions to rebel, especially at school.
In late summer, he gains special powers from aliens he encounters while canoeing in the swamp. He's then able to create any living thing, plant or animal, which he discovers after telling some fantastical stories. Giant spiders, flying dragons, beautiful girls, a living island in the sky that one can visit, even humans to help out at the family homestead--all appear after he describes them. And they don't go away. When a dragon-flying accident lands Josh in hospital, he discovers that he also has the power to heal others through touch, and the hospital staff use him to heal terminal patients. His powers leave him continually hungry--what he eats is described often-- and tired, but he enjoys making others better. As one can imagine, the school, community and news reporters find out about the "healer". He's hounded and even kidnapped, until his dragons save him.
Josh's best friend Troy is involved in most of the story, and much of the dialogue is between them. They feel like typical young teenagers, making light of things when they ought to be serious. The two boys use many references to movies--Avatar, Spiderman to name a couple--plus lots of cliches, but maybe this is how kids think and talk. It sometimes seems too sarcastic and clever, especially when their lives are in danger--which is often. Some of the sentences could be tightened up, needing contractions, and a synonym for "suddenly" would help during action descriptions--it's used too often.
Josh's highschool teachers are nicely described and all have fun, characterful names: Ms. Sreech for music, Ms. Pye for math, Mr. Hoop for basketball, and so on. Josh is even able to cure a couple of their minor ailments. The normal tensions and awkwardness between students and teachers is mixed with compassion and feels realistic. I also liked Ms. Screech's description of the Tree of Life, one of the few references to the rest of the world and other belief systems.
Josh's parents never seem heavy or overwhelming, though they're around after every mishap. A few times I questioned their lack of caution, letting their 14 year old son take chances I would call dangerous. But this book is written for teenagers, not adults, and they will enjoy Josh's freedom to do foolhardy things and face the consequences, even at the end of the book. Though the focus of the book is on the boys, there are some minor female characters, including sports-minded schoolmates. The girls often come across as a bit lecherous, lusting after Josh or just using him for personal gain. Perhaps a more modest, realistic teenaged girl should be introduced in sequels. That said, Josh's kid sister Candace is nicely portrayed.
This is a long book with plenty of imaginative action, often involving pet-like, flying dragons chasing bad guys, aliens, and other dragons. Plus there's plenty of ravenous eating for the weary creator/healer Josh. The fires raging around Baton Rouge only get worse as the story progresses, and everyone gets involved solving the crimes. Teenagers who like fun fantasy will enjoy this book, the first in a series.