BOOK REVIEW: The Button Box Series by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar
"Secrets are a problem, maybe the biggest problem of all. They weigh on the mind and take up space in the world.” - Gwendy Peterson
I haven't been into listening to books lately, but my mom told me how good the first book in The Button Box trilogy was and since it was short (three hours) I decided to give it a try. Then I got hooked and decided to read the second book in the series - which was just as good. Might as well finish the series and listen to the third book, right? You'll find out in this review!
The trilogy is written by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar. The first two books are considered novellas, with the third book rounding out the trilogy as a novel-length book. I know most reviews probably don't cover three books at once, but since the first two books of this trilogy were short stories, it didn't seem right to give each book it's own review. So we'll touch on each book a little, and then we'll review the trilogy as a whole. By the end, hopefully you'll have a better idea if this is a trilogy you'd like to give a chance or if you'll be saying "Next, please."
Gwendy's Button Box
The first book in The Button Box series is Gwendy's Button Box. In 1974, Gwendy Peterson has taken to running the Suicide Stairs in her little town of Castle Rock where we're introduced to the mysterious Mr. Farris who entrusts Gwendy with the button box. For how long and why - we have no idea. The button box has powers and those who are entrusted with the button box are able to push a button and change the course of history. We travel with Gwendy through many years of her adolescence and see how she comes to learn the power of the button box, as well as decides the best way to use this magic to her advantage without becoming selfish or letting the power overwhelm her.
The button box's magic is more powerful than you believe and at times seems to have a mind of its own. In the end, I was relieved that Gwendy is no longer tasked with the button box, but you wonder, do all the benefits of the box disappear after she is no longer in possession of it? Gwendy's Button Box was probably my favorite book of this trilogy. It's short, it's enthralling, and it feels complete.
Gwendy's Magic Feather
In the second book of the series, Gwendy's Magic Feather, Gwendy is once again entrusted with the button box. This time, however, she is an adult and the box appears without Mr. Farris or any other information. Over time, Gwendy has become a well-known author and has successfully run for United States Congress. She's also married her husband, Ryan, who is a photojournalist currently working overseas.
In Gwendy's Magic Feather, Gwendy returns home to Castle Rock to spend Christmas with her mother and father, while hoping that Ryan can return home in time to celebrate Christmas with them. While home in Castle Rock, Gwendy helps continue the search for two local missing girls. Can Gwendy help find the missing girls? Will the button box be a source of good or a source of evil? Gwendy knows that she could change multiple outcomes by using the button box, but at what cost?
Gwendy's Final Task
Gwendy's Final Task takes us on an adventure from Castle Rock, to another famous Maine town, to outer space. The magic of the box is continuing to grow and is leading it's caregivers to act on their evil thoughts. Mr. Farris, who has come to Gwendy looking like death, has once again placed the care of the button box in Gwendy's hands. It is now up to Gwendy to dispose of the box. Gwendy must face this final task while battling the early stages of Alzheimer's, as well as figure out if and how her husband's death fits into the box once again appearing in her life.
The Button Box Trilogy
One of the things I think this trilogy does best is combining real-life horrors and supernatural horrors. There were three real-life horrors that stuck with me throughout this trilogy. The first was Gwendy's mother being diagnosed with cancer and it returning once she had been in remission. My grandma was diagnosed with cancer about a year after I moved back to Pennsylvania. She made it through all the chemo and radiation and into remission. This didn't last long, however. She was eventually diagnosed with cancer yet again and this time it was not such an "easy" battle. I won't go into too much detail of Gwendy's situation, but it would have been nice to have the same choices as she does to help her mother through the cancer diagnosis.
The second real-life horror that shook me a bit was the death of Gwendy's husband, especially when she was able to see footage of the accident. To lose a loved one, especially in such a traumatic way and then being able to see footage of the actual death, I couldn't imagine. It hurts my heart to just think about it and when I was listening to the audiobook during this scene, I wanted to just hit fast forward to skip over it.
The third horror that really struck home with me was Gwendy's battle with Alzheimer's. I've always had a fear of being diagnosed with Alzheimer's, which just grew stronger once I had a concussion in 2009. That concussion caused me to lose the majority of my childhood memories and thinking about what it must be like to live without any memories of who I am is terrifying to me. When the terror of this happening really sunk in for me while reading Gwendy's Final Task, was when Gwendy forgot how to tie her shoe laces. She's in her 60s, has been tying her shoes for decades, and could not remember such a simple task. The possibility of that, and how easily it can happen, is frightening.
Overall, I rate this trilogy 3.5 out of 5 stars. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books, but the third was a bit harder for me to get into. The authors set the book in 2025 and the world has now continued on past the COVID-19 pandemic, which was set off by the button box. If this was not tied in with the real-life pandemic I believe I would have enjoyed this book as much as the other two. However, that is not the case. The fact that COVID-19 is brought up so quickly in the book had me less than excited. This, in combination with the political characters in this book, hit too close to home. I read these books to escape reality - not to have reality weaved into a story. If I hadn't enjoyed the first two books so much I do believe I would have quit listening to Gwendy's Final Task.
The final book, although it was the longest, did feel to be rushed. There was a lot happening and it seems that a lot of references to previous Stephen King works that I haven't read were in the final book. I was able to pick up on others throughout the trilogy, but would like to reread this trilogy after I've read more of Stephen King's works. Despite all of that, I am glad that I stuck with the final book. It was nice to see Gwendy's story conclude.
Let me know in the comments if you've read The Button Box trilogy or if you think this is something you'd be interested in! If you’d like to see what I’m reading now, check out my Goodreads or follow us on Instagram and Facebook! If you’re excited to see what other topics we’ll be covering in the coming months, make sure to subscribe. Thanks for reading with me!