Adults often shy away from reading fiction aimed at children. Perhaps they think it is too juvenile for them. Perhaps they think the writing isn’t as deep as books written for adults. I can tell you, in the last number of months I have read enough fabulous middle-grade fiction to know that anyone who misses these books is missing out.
After my 8 year old read Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, one of my favorite bloggers, Pragmatic Mom, suggested that we also read The Candymakers. That was enough of a ringing endorsement for me to reserve a copy at my local library. When it came in, simply reading the intro on the book flap was enough to hook me and J.
The concept of this story is that four 12 year-olds have entered a contest to create the next big thing in the candy world. You first meet Logan, the only child of the Candymakers, who own and operate the Life is Sweet factory where the four kids will get to create their masterpieces. Logan has the rare gift of being able to figure out ingredients by taste alone. Everyone thinks that he has an advantage in the competition due to his upbringing, but he just wants to be like everyone else. Then there is Miles, a quiet, bookish boy who talks about the afterlife and has some unusual allergies. Daisy is our lone girl contestant. She is super-strong, arrives on horse one day, and is often found randomly reading a romance novel out loud. Finally, there is Philip, who arrives at the competition clad in a suit-and-tie. He doesn’t seem to want to be anyone’s friend and will not even taste the candy the factory makes.
These four are a part of a national competition, but they get the opportunity to spend a little more than 2 days at the Life is Sweet candy factory. The factory itself feels oddly reminiscent of Willa Wonka’s factory. They have their own cows to provide milk for their chocolate which is made from cocoa beans that are harvested in their in-house tropical forest, and that’s just the start of it.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
Every day, Logan’s mom gives him a slip of paper with a quote on it. The above saying is what he was given on the second day of the competition. This quote struck me as I read it simply because it is completely accurate. But it has a deeper meaning in this story because the story itself unfolds by repeating the same 2 day period from the unique perspective of each character. By seeing events from each contestant’s eyes, your preconceived notions about each character change as they layers of the onion are peeled off. Miles’ strange habits make more sense, Philip turns out to be not as bad of a character as you initially believe that he is. This was actually J’s favorite aspect of the book and why she was completely unable to put it down. She enjoyed the fact that you got to learn about the different characters slowly, especially Daisy and Phillip.
As the story unfolds, you also learn that Logan was horribly scarred as a child. When reading the book from his perspective, nothing is mentioned of his scars because he simply doesn’t think of them. He has basically been sheltered at the factory since he was quite young and doesn’t come into contact with people very often who aren’t already aware of his scars. However, the other contestants are curious but also don’t want to be the one to bring the topic up. Young Logan is wise beyond his years when he says:
“I don’t understand why anyone would feel sorry for me. Some people have scars on the inside, and some people’s are on the outside. It shouldn’t matter.”
J has completely devoured this book. She loves reading about the factory itself in the same way that she enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As with Lemoncello, she wrote this week’s letter to a classmate about The Candymakers.
As an adult, I appreciated the insights that the characters learned about their own situations. In addition to Logan’s consideration that there are visible and invisible scars, Miles makes huge advancements. His own personal scars run deep, but when he discovers that what he viewed as his defining moment was different than he believed, rather than be angry at the pain it had caused him, he realized that it helped him grow.
“The whole thing taught me a lot about life and losing things. I can kind of see things in people now, like I know when someone else has lost something, and that makes me understand them better.”
I’d love to see J read this again in a few years to see if she comprehends it on a different level, but for now, this is one book that we have both truly enjoyed in our own ways.