36 pages • 1 hour readWendy Mass
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Wendy Mass’s novel The Candymakers is a work of middle-grade fiction that follows four children competing in a national candy making competition. As the children learn more about each other and the Life is Sweet candy factory, they give up their personal ambitions for the common good: to save the factory from a businessman who desires to steal the factory’s secret chocolate ingredient. Brown Books for Young Readers published the novel in 2010.
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The Candymakers follows four 12-year-old contestants who are competing in an annual candy competition—Logan, Miles, Daisy, and Philip. The Life is Sweet candy factory hosts the four contestants before the competition and allows them to use the factory facilities to create their candy; the story is told in five parts from each of the children’s perspectives.
Logan is the protagonist, and the novel begins and ends with his story. He is the Life is Sweet candymaker’s son, and he has lived his entire life in the factory, though he has mysterious scars all over his body. Even though he has grown up around candy, he finds that candy making doesn’t come easily to him, and he wishes to prove his worth as a candy maker to his father by winning the competition.
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Miles, another competitor, is a fearful boy who once witnessed a girl drowning in a lake. Because of this experience, he lives very cautiously and constantly thinks about how anything he does might be fatal. He imagines an afterlife for the girl, which his mind retreats to when he becomes too anxious. Miles and Logan quickly become friends, and Logan invites him to spend the night at the factory with him.
Daisy, another competitor, is actually a spy hired by Phillip’s father to steal the Life is Sweet’s secret chocolate ingredient. After getting to know Logan and Miles, however, she decides that she’d rather replace the ingredient with soap to sabotage anyone else’s efforts at recreating the factory’s signature chocolate.
Phillip is the last competitor, and he refuses to fraternize with the other children. He is rude and scribbles secretively in his notebook. Rather than a candy maker, Phillip is actually a music lover who plays the violin expertly in secret, fearing that his money-hungry father won’t approve of his hobby. Phillip believes that he was banned from the factory as a child after Logan dropped a toy in some machinery and blamed it on him; he wishes to take revenge on Logan by winning the competition. Phillip’s father reveals that he plans to steal the secret ingredient, and Phillip, having a change of heart toward the factory and Logan after he learns he was never really banned, tries to thwart these efforts. He makes a bet with his father that if he wins the competition, his father will leave the factory alone.
All of the perspectives combine when Daisy tries to replace the secret ingredient, Phillip tries to thwart the spy’s efforts to steal the ingredient, and Miles sees some commotion coming from the area during his sleepover at the factory. Each person reveals their motives, and together with Logan, they come up with a plan to help Phillip win the competition and save the factory.
At the competition, the children have insight into the judges’ deliberations because of Daisy’s spy connections. Logan learns that the judges would choose his candy if he changed the name because they feel sorry for him, covered as he is in scars. Logan refuses. The group also learns that the judges favor one candy in particular, and Logan tries the candy and identifies an ingredient as caffeine, an ingredient that isn’t allowed. With this knowledge, the judges choose Phillip’s idea—Harmonicandy, a candy harmonica that actually plays.
As the novel comes to a close, we learn that Logan’s scars are from Phillip’s visit to the factory as a child; Phillip dropped his toy car in a vat of boiling chocolate, and Logan dove in after it. Logan tells Phillip that he remembers him and does not blame him for this accident. The girl drowning that Miles saw was actually Daisy doing some spy training. The candymaker reveals that in the box with the “secret ingredient,” there is only a mirror: The secret ingredient in the candymaker’s chocolate is that they put a little of themselves into the chocolate. All of the children decide to pursue their own interests instead of what their parents would have them pursue. Daisy takes a break from spying, and Phillip plays violin in front of people for the first time.
The main theme of the novel is the transformative process of friendship. By the end of the competition, each character has overcome their struggle as a result of the friendships they’ve made with the other contestants.
By Wendy Mass