Monday, March 28, 2011

The Candymakers

First things first, I'm a big Wendy Mass fan. So be warned, I may be a little biased.

One of my favorite books of all time is JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE. After reading it, I discovered A MANGO SHAPED SPACE, HEAVEN LOOKS A LOT LIKE THE MALL, EVERY SOUL A STAR, and ELEVEN BIRTHDAYS. I think her novels do appeal more to the younger female gender (not me), but Jeremy Fink was so great that it is hard for me not to be impressed with the unique storytelling approach she takes in each of her books. She finds a way to change things up with each novel and explore some truly original ideas in an extremely kid-friendly way. In my opinion, she's one of the best, most popular, and consistent authors writing for children today.

Another reason I may be a little biased toward a Wendy Mass book . . .

I had the pleasure of meeting her when she visited our school district last spring. I'm on a small committee of teachers and librarians that help fund and plan and bring in a popular working authors for kids. The 5th grade classes in our district spend the week meeting with these authors and listening to their inspiring stories. Wendy was very down-to-earth and genuine and a big hit amongst our students. Plus, she thinks I rock!

At the time of her visit, THE CANDYMAKERS had not yet been released but she gave us a sneak peek of it. I had also been following it's creation on her blog. In similar Willy Wonka fashion, THE CANDYMAKERS tells the story of 4 kids each inventing a candy for a candymaking contest: Logan (the candymaker's son), Miles (allergic to everything), Daisy (daughter of a musician), and Philip (son of a rich businessman). The book is split into four sections, with each character getting a crack at narrating. Logan shares the story first, then we read Miles' version of the same happenings, then Daisy's, then Philip's. The book ends with with a fifth section of Logan tying up all loose ends.

Without being blown away, I was pleasantly surprised by THE CANDYMAKERS. Wendy Mass warns readers from the beginning to be on the lookout so it was obvious that not all the narrators were exactly who they seemed to be. However, some significant plot twists are thrown in that will surely thrill young readers.

If there's a theme present in many of Wendy Mass's novels, it's perspective. In A MANGO SHAPED SPACE she viewed the world through the eyes of a girl with synesthesia. In EVERY SOUL A STAR she viewed the world through three very different sets of preteen eyes. And in 11 BIRTHDAYS her two main characters, best friends, are in the midst of a terrible fight with neither considering the others' perspective.

The same is true with THE CANDYMAKERS. Logan is our guide through the first section of the story. He is innocent, sweet, and kindhearted. From this perspective it would seem that his only handicap in life is his lack of social experiences. He wants a best friend badly, but doesn't know how to go about it. A terrible accident in the past has led his parents to keep him sheltered and away from the world outside their candy factory's gates. By the time Miles takes the microphone however, the narrative is flipped upside down revealing the first of many surprises. It's not until we have stepped into each character's shoes that true perspective is achieved and Wendy Mass has a lot to say about judging a book by it's cover. I feel like she's captured their emotions and feelings perfectly, but their dialogue comes off a bit forced and unnatural.

I can't say this is Wendy Mass's best book, but it's easily her most ambitious. The text is easy to read and with short chapters in each of the five sections the book feels as if it goes by quickly. However with more than 450 pages, there's a lot of plot twists to digest and when the same story is told from four different points of view, there's a lot of information for young readers to juggle. Each section converges at the same cliffhanger and that leaves readers wanting more, but it couldn't keep my fifth grade class from became very antsy at multiple times throughout this book.

Wendy Mass is a popular author who knows who her readers are. She's one of my favorites even though this particular book wasn't.

Final Grade: B-

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