Giraffasaurus's Reviews > The Candy Shop War

The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
1105308
's review
Apr 22, 08

bookshelves: middle-grades
Recommended for: no one

I wanted to love this book from the very beginning. I absolutely loved the colorful, glittery cover, and the premise seemed like such fun. And I admit, I really liked the story. However, one thing will keep me from being able to recommend this title to others: the author's use of race. It made me very uncomfortable. From the start he unnecessarily describes non-white characters by their race. In an even worse example, when the main characters take a magic candy that is supposed to temporarily change their ethnicity as a way to disguise them, one girl becomes Chinese. She doesn't have a mirror, so she feels her face and guesses that she is Asian. I just felt the author was thisclose to mentioning that she felt her slanty eyes.

Ugh. That major issue aside, I did like the story and the characters. It's about a group of 5th graders, 3 boys and 1 girl, who become friends with an old lady in town. She's just opened a brand new candy shop, and enlists the help of the kids. Soon enough, though, they find out that it's no ordinary candy shop; Mrs. White creates magic candy. She has the kids do "jobs" for her that involve breaking the law in the pursuit of a mysterious treasure, then pays them in more magic candy. Eventually the kids realize they're in the middle of a "war" and are stuck trying to figure out what's right and who's good and who's bad.

Like I said, I loved the story, I didn't want to put it down. I'm just really sad that I can't recommend it to kids when they're looking for something good to read. I just wouldn't feel right handing them a book that unnecessarily describes someone as a "black female police officer."
16 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Candy Shop War.
sign in »

Comments (showing 1-33 of 33) (33 new)

dateDown_arrow    newest »

Lisa Brandon Mull writes his books with a lesson in mind for classroom discussions and even has a teacher aid section in the back of the book. Maybe you should read the lesson listed in the back of the book if you didn't get the reason for mentioning race.


MissInformation I agree with the original criticism about race references. I too will avoid it for booktalking. Having a note at the end does not make it ok for readers who have felt uncomfortable during the story (me included). I want to recommend books that all kids can enjoy reading, all the way through.


message 3: by Fireandsteel (new)

Fireandsteel Since this site is about the books and not about the people who comment I will just ask one question, “What good is a belief if it is never questioned?" BM is quite clever in his approach to insert key plots and situations that make a person evaluate how they feel about life, people, and their beliefs. If you only want entertainment then I might recommend Television. The approach has nothing to do with RACE, it has everything to do with the HUMAN condition. And definitely DO NOT recommend you read Everything That Rises Must Converge - unless you can transcend what you currently see as RACE.


Mad24dog I loved the book and didn't care at all or didn't notice the race problem. If you have a huge problem with it contact Brandon Mull.


Giraffasaurus Mad2dog, what would contacting the author accomplish? I'm not the only one who has an issue with his use of race descriptors; surely he's heard this criticism before. Talking to him won't change the fact that I simply feel uncomfortable recommending this book to others, especially kids.


Connie Mad24dog wrote: "I loved the book and didn't care at all or didn't notice the race problem. If you have a huge problem with it contact Brandon Mull."

So, basically you're saying that if we have a problem with a book, we can't review it? We can't let other people to whom this is important know about it?

Believe me, I *intend* to contact Brandon Mull. I'm very upset with how he handled race in what was otherwise a good book, and I would like him to know in the hopes that he learns something and does better next time. But meanwhile, since when are we not allowed to talk about it?


Connie Lisa wrote: "Brandon Mull writes his books with a lesson in mind for classroom discussions and even has a teacher aid section in the back of the book. Maybe you should read the lesson listed in the back of the book if you didn't get the reason for mentioning race."

I did read it, actually. None of the questions in there has to do with race at all.


message 8: by Erin (new) - rated it 1 star

Erin I agree with your orginal post. I couldn't believe that way that he described race and seemed to go out of his way to identify the race of characters. It made me very uncomfortable which impacted how I thought of the book.


Maxy I'm sorry that the way he mentioned race made you uncomfortable.

I'm not trying to justify the fact that he made you uncomfortable. However, what I think he was trying to do was give the reader a picture of the character right off the bat. When authors don't describe the character's race, since I am white, I usually (subconsciously--it's not intentional on my part) picture them as such, which would not be accurate for many of the diverse characters Mull has. I think Brandon Mull wants us to picture the characters the way he sees them. Does that make sense?

I think races and ethnicities can be difficult to handle in writing. I know I struggle with it when creating my own characters. I want readers to have a clear picture of a character in their mind. It's hard to tell the race of a character in writing without making it seem racist or blunt.

Maybe I'm just being insensitive. I do agree that he could have handled it better, but as I said before, race and other characteristics that are so personal are difficult to identify in a character without offending someone.


message 10: by Connie (last edited Oct 06, 2010 02:05PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Connie Maxy wrote: "I'm sorry that the way he mentioned race made you uncomfortable.

I'm not trying to justify the fact that he made you uncomfortable. However, what I think he was trying to do was give the reader ..."


I don't know about the OP here, but as far as I'm concerned, mentioning race is not the problem.

It's the way he did it that is offensive.

He described the white characters with a variety of interesting adjectives. He described the other characters (and he didn't have a diverse cast, the main characters were all white) ONLY by their race or, if they were lucky, by their race and a stereotypical feature.

If he wants us to "picture characters the way he sees them", he should do a better job of it by not limiting the description of non-white characters to "black" or "Asian".


message 11: by Maxy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Maxy Connie:

That's what I was trying to say. How would you suggest that he describe characters of other races without offending others?

I wasn't just referring to Candy Shop Wars when I mentioned Mull's diverse characters. In Fablehaven, he has a wide variety of races and ethnicities: Filipino, Samoan, Hopi, Aborigine, Asian, French, Mexican, etc.

Frankly, I'm too tired to continue at the moment.


Connie Maxy wrote: "Connie:

That's what I was trying to say. How would you suggest that he describe characters of other races without offending others?

I wasn't just referring to Candy Shop Wars when I mentioned..."


You must be too tired, because you didn't even read what I said. I already said, in my comment to this review, what would be a better way of doing it, but I'll take a bit from my own review, why not.

How would I suggest he describe characters of other races? By using other adjectives.

Compare "a black female police officer" with "the police officer, a muscular man with short hair and chiseled cheekbones".

If you seriously think those two descriptions are equivalent, then you're part of the problem. Why can't the "black female police officer" have short or long hair? Why can't she have facial features of any sort? Maybe she is tall or short? Fat or thin? Dark skinned, light skinned, or somewhere in the middle? Maybe she has a long nose or a snub nose or a crooked nose? Perhaps she's left-handed and we can see this when she writes a ticket?

EVERY DESCRIPTION IS LIKE THIS.

The white people have descriptions. The non-whites - don't. And whatever you think, "black" or "Asian" or "Hispanic" isn't a description. It can be *part* of a description, sure - it can be a lot easier to write "The black cop" instead of "The coffee-skinned cop", and if you do that too often people think you're starving anyway. But it should not be the *entire* description, because that kinda sounds like a. "Non-whites are weird!" and b. "Blacks/Asians/Hispanics/THEY all look alike anyway".

You say he wants us to "picture them the way he sees them" but from his descriptions compared to how he describes the white characters it sounds like he didn't bother to see them at all.

I haven't read the Fablehaven books, so I don't know if it's any better in those.


Connie Giraffesaurus, I'm sorry for taking over your comments a bit here :(


message 14: by Maxy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Maxy Connie, I read what you said. I just wanted you to be more specific.

I'm sorry if I'm coming across as racist or making you feel like I don't care about the issue. My above comments were written during a time when I was sick, tired, and in a bad mood; I should have waited a while to post so I could say what I was trying to say more clearly.

I realize that Brandon Mull could improve the way he described characters of other races, and you make some valid points. I was trying to defend one of my favorite authors and went about it incorrectly. I apologize.


message 15: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Thank you for this review. I'm Asian myself, and even though I loved this book in plot-wise, I was seriously insulted by Brandon Mull's handling of race. There were a few sections that really infuriated me because it seemed like Mull was implying that there was something wrong being Asian, like here:

"Okay," Nate said. "You want us to walk you home, Summer? You live the opposite way from the rest of us."

"I'm not worried," she said. "It isn't far, and I'm not Chinese anymore."


I don't exactly get why Summer not being Chinese anymore affects anything in regards to her walking home alone... It just seems like an unnecessary comment to me, and an insult to boot. So anyways, I'm just glad someone else picked up on the unnecessary race-butchering Mull did in this book.


Giraffasaurus Connie--no problem, I usually get too exhausted trying to figure out how to explain myself with this stuff. :)


Sabrina *The REAL Princess* Thanks for your opinion. I think I'll still read it but at least I have been warned!


Connie Maxy wrote: "Connie, I read what you said. I just wanted you to be more specific.

I'm sorry if I'm coming across as racist or making you feel like I don't care about the issue. My above comments were written..."


Believe me, Maxy, I know the feeling! I was in a bad mood too, which is why it took me so long to reply. I wanted to calm the heck down.

And no, I don't think you're racist. Or at least, I think you don't want to be, which is good enough for government work, as they say.

But it's not always enough to just have good intentions, you know? I'm sure Brandon Mull isn't racist either, and had no ill intent. That doesn't mean he didn't make a big misstep when writing, unfortunately.


Tiana Amy wrote: "Thank you for this review. I'm Asian myself, and even though I loved this book in plot-wise, I was seriously insulted by Brandon Mull's handling of race. There were a few sections that really infur..."

This sentence in the book makes perfect sense and is in no way designed to be an insult. I think people are too quick to be offended and some are even looking for it.

Since she was Asian when she was on the mission, whoever is looking for this group is going to be looking for her- an Asian girl. But since the melting pot mixer wore off, she is now in the clear because no one is looking for a white girl that did it. It was a disguise that she is no longer using and so she is saying that she is safe because no one will recognize her as the girl who did it. It is kind of like a robber that comes into the gas station with a mask on. No one would recognize him without the mask as the guy who rob the place.

As far as not describing the other races as much as a white character, it isn't a big deal. Because when the kids use the melting pot mixers, they don't look different for very long and it isn't a big part of the story. You should describe main characters in detail, but don't use a lot of time describing anyone else that doesn't have much of a role anyway.


Connie Tiana wrote: "Amy wrote: "Thank you for this review. I'm Asian myself, and even though I loved this book in plot-wise, I was seriously insulted by Brandon Mull's handling of race. There were a few sections that ..."

Wow, Tiana, that's convenient. Other people don't make mistakes, instead, it's our fault for being offended. He's not offensive, we're just offended randomly.

It's not whether or not the sentence is INTENDED to be an insult. If I step on your foot, it doesn't matter if I INTENDED to do that or not. Your foot still hurts.

That single sentence alone isn't the problem. The problem is that it's one of many problematic passages.

As far as not describing the other races as much as a white character, it isn't a big deal.

What IS a big deal is describing non-whites ONLY by their race, and describing whites - plenty of whom aren't main characters, and most of whom only appear for a scene or two - with whole paragraphs of description. That is HUGE.


Tiana I'm confused as to why you need to take an argumentative tone with me or anyone who has a different viewpoint than you...? Yes, there is a big difference between someone who intentionally hurts you and someone who accidentally hurts you. The pain from stepping on my foot accidentally will last a couple seconds, if that. I smile at you and you say sorry. Not a big deal. Doing it intentionally will cause me to seek revenge and dwell on it also making it hurt even more.

Why do you assume that people try to offend you? Why are you assuming that the author goes out of his way to insult you? Why don't you just give people the benefit of the doubt and try to see that most people are good?

Some people are really picky when it comes to analyzing books and don't care about the main message of the book. Do you really think the author is trying to send a message about race? I highly doubt it.

I could be offended that the worst character in the book is a woman and the hero that saves the day is a male. So is the author trying to say that men are better than women? No. Don't read too much into it. I'm sure if the author was aware of this, then he would fix it. No one is perfect.

And I guess I would have to go back through and read it again, but I don't remember whole paragraphs of description about characters. He described them a little bit, but not like some authors do. It is funny because some of the other reviews on this book said that he told too much instead of showed. Like telling what was inside the store instead of describing it. Some authors love to "show" and write too much, some don't write enough. I think it is a hard balance sometimes.


Giraffasaurus Tiana,

As the original commenter, I'd like to respond to some of your points. Personally, I don't believe Mull was trying to be offensive or send a message about race. However, it happened. No, I don't think he's the worst person ever because of it. But I also think it's something that should be discussed. I shouldn't rate this book as awesome if his use of race descriptors made me uncomfortable. The reason I wrote the original review was to bring the issue to light.

It doesn't matter if Mull meant to be offensive or not. He was. By describing a character as a "black female police officer" but not feeling the need to tell us that the other office was white and male, he's saying (unintentionally or not) that it's somehow different for the first officer to be black and female. He's presenting the default to be white and male. I'm sure black female police officers would prefer to be seen first and foremost as police officers when doing their jobs. It shouldn't matter what race or gender they are.


Tiana It's good for people to discuss books and bring up different points that they otherwise wouldn't have seen. I think that is the point of these reviews. People bring up stuff that I never think of and it usually helps to understand the book better. But when you read some of these reviews before beginning the book, then you tend to start the book a little biased.

My first comment was a reply to Amy to help clear a misunderstanding for that one sentence in the book that she quoted. Like I said, I think she was a little too quick to take offense to that sentence and if other people read that review, it may affect them in the same way during their reading of it which could lead to a negative response that they might have not had (wow, what a long sentence that was:) ). You take a sentence like that out of context and you can twist it any way you want. I read that review before I came to that part in the book and that was the attitude I had. I had to ask my husband why the author would've said that and he cleared it up for me. If I hadn't read that review before that part in the book, I would've been able to figure it out on my own. But my mind was already a little clouded because of it.

And yes, I believe intent does matter. I don't take his descriptions as offensive because they weren't meant that way. Sure, he could probably do a better job with his descriptions, but you live and learn. If this is brought to his attention, he'll probably fix it next time. Anyways, you can choose to be offended or you can choose not to be- that is up to each individual person. If you go through life choosing not to be offended, it usually makes life a little easier.

I agree with you that race shouldn't matter... ever. So as far as I'm concerned, the melting pot mixers would've been better if they turned people blue and green instead of different races. Maybe the author can change that as well in the next edition :)


Giraffasaurus Well, I'm white and middle-class, so I wasn't personally offended. And I do believe that our attitudes and reactions can be controlled by ourselves. However, I don't think it's fair to say that people are just able to not be offended by offensive statements and attitudes. If I read a book that portrayed most or all women to be weak, or some other negative trait, I'd be offended, and I think rightfully so. I can't comment any further on the race issues in this book, though, as I'm white and don't have the room to say what people of color should or shouldn't be offended by. I've never been affected by institutional racism.

I totally see what you were saying now, about people's reading experiences being affected by reviews. That's why I don't read reviews of books until after I've read the books. I do think the onus is on the reader to avoid reviews that might go into those sort of specifics, not on the reviewer to limit what he/she says.


message 25: by Mary Grace (new) - added it

Mary Grace Nakao I know what you mean cuz in fablehaven book 5, he did the same with calling Vincent as the Filipino guy. LOL
and obviously, he's short >.>
I guess, no matter how good of an author he is, he still needs to enhance his descriptive writing about others ethnicity :D


Danielle I like what Tiana and the original reviewer said in the last comments of thiers, but since this is a kids book I really think most kids won't notice this unless they are perceptive/really mature for thier age. I don't want to sound like I'm stereotyping that age group, though. I was a couple years above the indended age group when I read it and I never noticed these race issues. This is just my opinion on this discussion and I hope I'm not bothering to much by bringing up something that was already sort of resolved.


Giraffasaurus Danielle, what worries me is that because kids don't consciously notice those things, they're going to get those ideas ingrained on a subconscious level. Imagine if they read many books with the same issue. Over time they will get the idea that it is different/weird/wrong to be non-white.


Katie He describes white people too. I don't feel he only describes other ethnicities.


Tiana I recently went to a book signing and this author was there and he did a little book talk. He was nice and said that there is going to be a sequel to Candy Shop War coming out this fall sometime. I wanted to ask him about this question, but he never got to me. I tried though :)


Giraffasaurus Tiana wrote: "I recently went to a book signing and this author was there and he did a little book talk. He was nice and said that there is going to be a sequel to Candy Shop War coming out this fall sometime. I..."

Aw, thanks for trying! I believe he didn't have bad intentions when he wrote this book, but I hope he has at least learned a little since then.


Kendraseth Woah guys calm down! Everyone's really uptight about this whole race thing. I don't think when Brandon Mull wrote this book he said "I want to offend people so they can write bad reviews on Good Reads!" I'm sure he wasn't trying to offend anyone, so just calm down. If you don't like that's fine, just keep it to yourself and don't freak out all the time! Jeez guys!


Giraffasaurus It doesn't matter if he meant to or not. It's offensive, and some people appreciate having a heads-up about that sort of thing before reading a book or recommending it to a child.

As far as I can tell, no one's freaking out.


Nathan He is not be a racist if that's what your saying there is a difference from being a racist and describing someone


back to top