“I Am the Cheese” by Robert Cormier: a book review

A great book with a terrible title (until it all makes sense in the final pages), this is “Shutter Island” for teens.

Robert Cormier was there and doing Young Adult Lit before it was hip. Long before J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins. Ya feel me, bro? j/k

Forboding, mysterious, and filled with blips of stunning revelations, this short novel plays with perceptions, memory, and switches effortlessly between first-person present-tense chapters and third-person past-tense segments. Also, a third, unique form of storytelling exists here–the recording between the main character and the “Doctor.” Between these three avenues of tense and “feel”, the reader is brilliantly given different angles and interpretations of the story and it stays fresh. Somehow, since 1977, this novel still feels super fresh. Like the Supermarket chain. For real.

In this book, we follow a boy named Adam, who is trying to remember his past, where his parents are, and who this man is who keeps visiting him in a dank hospital room and asking questions. He hasn’t taken his pills in a while either, and ever other chapter, the narration leaves the hopsital and goes into what we believe is the past, the entire time Adam is driving somewhere with a package on his bik. We don’t when or if he will get there, if he has done this before, or what is in the package. Where his parents are and why he needed his medication and how far in the past this second part of the story takes place remain a mystery.

I was surprised at how much I liked the pacing and the voice, reminding me of a combination between “Catcher in the Rye”, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime”, with a bit of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and a splash of the films “Memento” and “Shutter Island” (in presentation of plot delivery).

An excellent book at a great length for teens. Well-written, tight, and only slowish around the three-quarter mark if I had to be picky. It’s a psycho-analytical text in one sense, and I think it speaks volumes that the young reading community once looked at YA Lit as true “literature”, in a format that was as challenging and deep as it’s themes. It’s also kind of cool that this book and others by Cormier are often attempted to be banned by certain groups. Silly rabbits.

I Will easily be reading and recommending more Robert Cormier to people, but specifically teens 13-19. “The Chocolate War” is next on my list, and came out two years before “I am the Cheese.”



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