Updated: Dec 28, 2019
“Secrets are a problem, maybe the biggest problem of all. They weigh on the mind and take up space in the world.”
Young Gwendy Peterson is determined to lose some weight after being teased by classmates. While on her daily run, she meets a mysterious man in black named Richard Farris, who apparently has been keeping an eye on her and has decided she is "the one". He gives her a box, one of mahogany with eight colored buttons and two levers, one of which dispenses jelly-bean sized chocolate animals, and the other, valuable 1891 silver coins. Six buttons represent six continents (not counting Antarctica, which is essentially deserted) and the other two, well, the red button represents whatever Gwendy desires. The black button represents everything. It's implied that pushing these buttons will trigger destruction, and it is up to Gwendy to keep the box safe.
As Gwendy begins to eat the chocolate animals, things begin to turn around for her. She loses weight, she does better in school and becomes a pretty, popular track star. Her parents seem happier. Everything is going right. But she has nightmares of Farris, she has dark thoughts that seem to come to fruition in some form or another, and she is always, always concerned about her button box.
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from Gwendy's Button Box. I bought the novella ages ago but it sat on my TBR along with so many other books. But being on a novella/short story kick lately, I finally picked it up and dove in without any previous knowledge of what the story was about.
Reading it directly after Elevation, I've been spoiled by these trips back to Castle Rock. I loved reading about the Suicide Stairs, and my "Man in Black" radar pinged as soon as the stranger on the bench introduced himself as "Richard Farris". King and Richard Chizmar do an excellent job pacing the story, introducing us to Gwendy at age 12 and taking us on a journey through her life as she enters high school, and beyond. The button box is never far from the story, or from Gwendy's mind.
As in every life, bad things happen, even to Gwendy. But are these things happening because of the box, or are they happening because life can be tragic and unfair. I love the questions that the box inspires. What would you do with the kind of power bestowed upon Gwendy? Would you continue to take the good fortune while trying to ignore the temptation to touch those buttons? Would you be willing to allow an object like the button box to control your life in such a way?
Gwendy's Button Box is a wonderful collaboration between King and Chizmar. It's emotional and reads at a steady pace that never loses momentum. Gwendy felt very real to me, as did Farris, despite the small amount of time we actually got with him. The writing between the two authors was seamless and I was admittedly disappointed to come to the end... until I remembered Chizmar is writing a sequel to be released this November titled, Gwendy's Magic Feather (yes, I have already pre-ordered it). A definite must-read for any Constant Reader.