Gwendy’s Button Box, by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar (2017)

Mystery
15-Adult
Gwendy's Button Box, by Stephen King and Richard ChizmarI approach Stephen King with great trepidation. As a teen I devoured Carrie and moved rapidly through his backlist, until Salem’s Lot, which so terrified me I made my younger brother accompany me upstairs at bedtime. No lie. Didn’t touch King again for years! But this one, co-written with his longtime friend Richard Chizmar, looked so intriguing I gave it to my spouse to read. He passed it back, assuring me it was in the vein of King novels I’ve loved like Hearts in Atlantis and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. It’s 1974, and we are back in Castle Rock, a favourite King setting. Gwendy is 12, about to enter middle school in the fall. Determined to shed her detested nickname Goodyear, she spends the summer pounding up Suicide Stairs, ignoring the stranger in a hat reading on a bench. Probably a perv, she figures. Eventually he chats her up, and against her better judgment she sits down. His name is Mr. Farris, and gives her a magic box that dispenses an exquisite chocolate he says will help her manage her food cravings. The box has a second lever, and eight coloured buttons. Six of the buttons correspond to the six major continents (no one lives in Antarctica so it doesn’t count); the red one can be anything Gwendy wants, and the black one, well, that’s everything. Everything. That’s essentially all Gwendy knows for sure, but after tasting the chocolate she simply can’t resist taking the box home, where she hides it from her parents. Every day she takes a chocolate, and slowly life improves for Gwendy. The box is about power, she realizes, and the temptation to use that power for either good or evil. It both fascinates and scares her. The book, a novella of about 175 pages, advances through the next 10 years of Gwendy’s young life as she navigates family, school, friendship troubles, first love, bullying, and terrifying world events. The magic little box remains largely in the shadows, coming out at key moments in Gwendy’s life. She presses buttons just a few times, and the consequences are horrific. How Gwendy manages the responsibility of the button box is a fascinating metaphor for politics today, and leads the reader to thoughtful introspection. What would any of us do with such power? How do we determine the trustworthiness of our leaders, and candidates for leadership, in roles that really do wield such power? And what of the promise of that daily chocolate for Gwendy? Is it wise to rely on a daily “little helper”? What devices/vices do we turn to in our own lives? I simply can’t stop thinking about this little book and the messages it holds for readers. An absolute gem that deserves a spot on your gift list. It’s more creepy than horror, though there are a couple of very troubling scenes, so it’s not suitable for younger teens. A thought-provoking book that will linger long after the last page is turned.
More discussion and reviews of this book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35456182
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