Stephen King, Richard Chizmar

Gwendy’s Button Box

  • This summary of Gwendy’s Button Box includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

Gwendy’s Button Box Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Gwendy’S Button Box by Stephen King, Richard Chizmar.

Set in 1974, Stephen King and Richard Chizmar’s horror novella, Gwendy’s Button Box (2017), follows twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson as she meets a stranger in a black hat who gives her a mysterious box that impacts her life in strange and frightening ways. King, a prolific and world-renowned author, is known for his horror stories such as IT, The Shining, and Salem’s Lot. Chizmar, who writes fiction and screenplays, is best known as the editor of Cemetery Dance Magazine, a specialty publisher of horror and suspense fiction.

In the town of Castle Rock, twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson is on a mission to lose weight in order to stop being bullied by her classmates. She is due to start middle school in the fall and doesn’t want her nickname, “Goodyear,” to follow her. Every day, she runs up the Suicide Stairs, a rusting structure that clings to the cliff side and leads up to Castle View. One day, as she catches her breath from atop Castle View, a man in the park below calls to her, “Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me.” Wearing dark clothes and a black hat, he introduces himself as Richard Farris. Farris says he has noticed her because she’s trying to better herself. Because of this, he would like to give her something.

Farris shows Gwendy the Button Box, a mahogany box with eight colored buttons on top; she is immediately drawn to it. He briefly explains what the side levers do—one gives out animal-shaped chocolate treats that will curb her appetite and help her lose weight; the other gives out silver dollars as payment for keeping the box. However, the eight buttons on the top of the box are a different story.

The eight buttons are quite difficult to push because of the weight of the repercussions. Six of them each target an entire continent. There is also an ominous black button called “the Cancer Button” that Farris says represents everything and a red button that will be whatever her imagination pictures. The box “gives gifts,” Farris warns, “but they’re small recompense for the responsibility.” Gwendy asks him what exactly the buttons do, and Farris answers, “Why ask a question you already know the answer to?”

For the first few years, Gwendy enjoys having the box despite the burden of protecting it. The chocolate treats help her lose weight, and not only do her classmates stop bullying her, several of the boys become interested in her. Her parents’ marriage also improves; they stop drinking and rekindle their love for each other. But soon things take a turn for the worst.

She begins having nightmares that a boy is going to push the black button, and she can’t stop him no matter how she tries. When her classmate Frankie Stone harasses her, she dreams of breaking his left arm. Later, Frankie’s left arm is broken in a car accident. Despite her nightmares about the box, eventually, her curiosity is too much, and she presses the red button, imaging an uninhabited section of South America as she does so. In the morning, she learns that the Jim Jones mass suicide happened there; she is devastated.

There are still good days, however. Gwendy spends time with her best friend, Olive, making strawberry turnovers and playing records for an impromptu dance party, which even Olive’s mom joins in. But the weight of responsibility for the box takes a toll on Gwendy. She alternates between having nightmares about someone finding it and actively trying to get rid of it. But the box seems to refuse to be left behind, and she always comes back for it.

One day, Olive kills herself by jumping off the Suicide Stairs. Gwendy knows she wasn’t there for Olive as much as she should’ve been, and she tries to make up for it in some small way by using the box to destroy the Suicide Stairs. Eventually, she meets a boy named Harry, and they begin dating, but Gwendy suspects that the box is jealous of Harry. Her suspicions are confirmed one night when Frankie comes over to proposition Gwendy and finds the box. To distract him, “Gwendy does the only thing she can think of” and exposes her breasts to Frankie. When Harry sees the situation, he and Frankie get into a fight, and Frankie hits Harry on the head with the box. Harry dies from his injuries.

It is now 1984, and Gwendy is graduating from college when Farris visits her. He congratulates her for not using the box excessively, explaining that the box is neither good nor evil. Everything that happened that Gwendy had blamed on the box was simply the result of people with bad intentions. Farris takes back the box, saying that it is time to pass it to a new caregiver. Gwendy is both relieved and saddened to see it go.