Friday, June 11, 2010

A Review of The Candymakers by Wendy Mass

You're going to have to wait a few months for this one, which I read in galley form, but you might want to put it on your list. We're talking Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Kurosawa's Rashomon.

The Candymakers is told in four sections, essentially four novellas narrated by each of the four main characters, with some repetition of time frame as well as extensions of plot. In each section, we find out surprising information not provided by the previous section.

We also build from a very Dahlesque premise to a book that contains quite a bit of young psychological drama. In fact, I'm going to have a little trouble writing this without spoilers. But I will attempt to give you a taste of The Candymakers.

Four twelve-year-olds are competing in a sort of cooking contest. (Other contestants are gathering at other candy factories.) Each kid must design a new kind of candy. Our cast of characters includes Logan, guileless son of the factory owner, who might appear to have an unfair advantage; Miles, a candy aficionado struggling to get over seeing a young girl drown a few years earlier; Daisy, a cheery country girl who seems to like horses; and Philip, who just seems like a jerk. (In fact, for much of the book, Philip reminded me of a pint-sized version of Mr. Slugworth from the 1971 movie, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.)

But rule number one in this book is that no one is quite what he or she seems...

I started reading with a mild interest in the premise, but ended up hooked by the mysteries of the characters—their pasts, their worries, their hopes, and especially their secrets. In addition, someone appears to be a spy or a saboteur, intent on stealing the candy factory's secret ingredient, but who? And why? There's a lot of very fun sneaking around in this book, and the young characters are thoroughly likable, with the exception of Philip, and even he might win you over once you get his take on things.

Meanwhile, you will appreciate the sweet torment of questions like these: Why is Logan bad at candy making? Why does Daisy read the same romance novel all the time? When and where was butterscotch first created? And what is Phillip's secret talent?

By the end of the story, all four children have changed, and they come together in a really nice way to accomplish new goals.

The fifth character in the book is arguably the candy factory, Life Is Sweet, which has fantastical rooms and techniques that feel like an homage to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Who wouldn't want to visit the Cotton Candy Room, the Crunchorama Room, the High-Jumping Jelly Beans, or the chicle jungle in the Tropical Room?

I'm usually not fond of books that throw in pop psychology, and there's some of that here, but the storytelling tends to rise above it. Mass uses the approach from Rashomon (or Hoodwinked, if you will) skillfully as she builds the tale of The Candymakers. And of course, it doesn't hurt that you get to read about candy making... Look for this book in the fall!

Note: When I heard galleys were available, I requested one from the publisher, Little Brown. Currently scheduled for publication on October 5, 2010.

7 comments:

jama said...

This sounds right up my alley. Thanks for the review, Kate! I'm already salivating . . .

Kate Coombs said...

You're welcome, Jama! Think of this as payback for all the salivating I did at your site during April. :)

Mary Lee said...

Lucky you! I can't wait to read this!!!

jennyleader said...

this book is so good. I was Lucky enough to get to read the book because Wendy Mass came to my school last spring and She gave the book to my teacher who organized the whole thing. My teacher knew that I liked to read and asked if I wanted to read it. Of course I did. since it wasn't published yet it still had some mastakes but it was great. When this book comes to shelves i'm buying it for myself.

Kate Coombs said...

Jenny--You ARE lucky! I can see why you want your own copy. How cool that you got to meet the author!

Anonymous said...

Do you know of anywhere i could find all of the characters in this book from the seperate parts?

KateCoombs said...

Anonymous--I don't, though you could check out some other reviews. The easiest way to find that information is in the book itself. Good luck!