The Annual Candymaking Contest is about to get underway, and three hopeful 12-year-old candymakers are heading to the Life Is Sweet candy factory for two days of training before the Region III competition kicks off. Miles O'Leary, Daisy Carpenter and Philip Ransford III will be welcomed to the factory, owned by the Sweet family, and allowed use of the ingredients and facilities there. Already at the factory is the fourth competitor, Logan Sweet, the Candymakers' son and heir to the Life Is Sweet legacy. Between dreamy Miles, clever Daisy, ambitious Philip and candy prodigy Logan, the contest should be fierce. But in THE CANDYMAKERS by Wendy Mass, readers will be surprised as the kids' real motives (and identities) are revealed.
Daisy Carpenter is a bright and cheerful girl but a mysterious one as well. Besides being funny and kind-hearted, she is amazingly strong, reads romance novels when she should be working on her contest entry, is in the habit of talking to herself, and arrives at Life Is Sweet on a horse. Despite her overall confidence, Daisy's contest entry remains an inedible pile of green goo.
About a year ago, Miles saw a girl drown. He was in a rowboat with his parents and saw a young girl, who was being chased by bees, head into the water, never to emerge. Since then he has been obsessed with death and the afterlife, and torn apart by guilt because he was unable to save her. The librarian who works at the library where he spends much of his time (often looking for secret or magical messages in books) suggested he enter the candy contest, and he's excited to get inside Life Is Sweet, a factory once famous for its annual picnics and tours. He's inspired to create a sweet honey bee candy in memory of the girl he never knew but thinks about constantly.
Philip also remembers the factory tours, but not as fondly as Miles. When he was small he toured the factory with his father and met a friend. But a random accident forced Philip to leave the tour abruptly, and ever since he has harbored an anger at Life Is Sweet and the little boy he met that day. That little boy just happened to be Logan Sweet. Philip is abrasive and determined, but deep down is nursing a hurt and sadness that perhaps only the candy contest can heal.
Logan has lived almost entirely inside Life Is Sweet --- not that he's complaining! The factory is a marvelous place full of confectionery delights and adults who love him unconditionally. But when Miles, Philip and Daisy show up, Logan begins to wonder if he's missing out on friendship and other normal things. As he gets to know his competition and learns what has compelled each of them to enter the contest, Logan's dreams of winning with his Bubbletastic ChocoRocket begin to seem less important than making friends and helping them become stronger and happier kids.
Imagine Roald Dahl's classic competition for the Chocolate Factory, set in contemporary America where the entrants have to prove their worth not only through the strength of their moral character but by creating a new candy, one the world has never tried and one that tastes delicious. The descriptions of the sugary and sweet treats here are mouthwatering, and Life Is Sweet is an imaginative and fun setting. The story is told from the perspective of Logan, Miles, Daisy and Philip in turn, and each character is interesting, sympathetic and full of serious surprises. Mass plays with perspective, perception and identity, and the themes here are at once fantastical (spies and secret ingredients, magic and portents) and universal (friendship, ethics, the art of creation). It is this blend of the terrifically unique and the importantly everyday, written in a lively and exciting style, that makes THE CANDYMAKERS such a charming read.
--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman