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“The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier: a book review

Because the style and emotional conveyance worked so effectively, “The Chocolate War” gets a 3.0 rather than a 2.5 star.

“What?” you say. “Only a 3? It’s a classic!”

Yeah, but age has worked against it, and being edgy and controversial doesn’t always make great art, and while this book could be great for kids in high school, it’s too damn bleak and bullyish. While argulably realistic, no one — not one character, students or teacher, bad guy or good guy or in-the-middle characters — got what they deserved. The good were punished, the bad guys never repented, and there was simply a lot of harsh language and sexuality here, all of which I was fine with, but given the plot and the story, I felt they were interesting character vignettes; powerful but little else.

It’s a book for boys. Girls are objects, don’t disturb the status quo, adults suck. If anything, it made me dislike organized religion, authority, and bullies more than I already do, and if that was the point, bravo.

But aren’t readers supposed to enjoy the books and lessons in them? Aren’t writer’s goals to give harsh reality checks in a way that make us want to keep reading? Fail.

I was never swept away, I could always find a place to put down the book and check my Facebook account, and the depth of the story honestly merited a short story, not a novel. You would have lost some of the brilliant character depth, yes, but that’s the trade-off, and I would have prefered it.

Robert Cormier was an incredible writer, and it does show it’s face here in “The Chocolate War.” But you can tell by how disjointed some parts are, how repetitious the second act was, and how confusing and unfocused the first few chapters were: this was a book he wrote off-and-on for three years while he was working a full-time job (which he admits in the back of the 30th Anninversy paperback edition).

I admire this author, but he has better stuff out there, and “The Chocolate War” came no where near the excitement and readability and appeal and execution that “I Am the Cheese” can tout.

Final words: Bland, not fun to read, not something you’ll be recommending to friends. You’ll hear about it because your school blabbers on and on about it or because it’s been on the banned book list for ages.

enjoyment at heart: 2.0/5

writing: 4.5/5

my sensible and critical grade: 3.0/5

MH

 

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“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.”

4.5/5

MH

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