Sunday, February 3, 2008
The Chocolate War
My first book crossed off the list of the Young Adult Challenge.
When I first heard about The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, I didn't realize it was a young adult book. It just sounded like a really good book. Maybe that's proof that people of all ages can enjoy really good literature. That being said, I guess I'm still pretty close to the age group cornered by "young adult" writers. Even so.
The Chocolate War takes place in New England at a Catholic private high school in the 1970s (at least the copyright is '74). The school is unofficially led by a secret society, The Vigils, and officially led by Brother Leon, the stand-in for the ill headmaster. When Brother Leon calls upon the boys to sell double the number of boxes of chocolates at double the price during the school's annual chocolate sale, things start to heat up. The magnitude of the venture requires The Vigils' participation. So what was Jerry Renault to do when The Vigils, infamous for giving out risky "assignments" to the student body, ordered him to refuse to sell chocolates? Furthermore, what's Jerry to do when his assignment is over and the words from his mouth continue to refuse to sell the chocolates? Finding inspiration from a poster hanging in his locker he ponders the question, "Do I dare disturb the universe?"
The Chocolate War is a quick read exploring powerful themes including: death, peer pressure, sexuality, violence, power, and personal identity. As a result, parents around the country have attempted to have it banned. What better way to encourage students to read a book than try to prevent them from reading it! Here's an interesting (if somewhat outdated) article explaining one circumstance of the book's controversy. My own opinion aligns with the authors: The bits of the book parents object to (swear words and masturbation), are the bits of the book that give validity to the characters. And heaven forbid young teenagers read a swear word or brief descriptions of masturbation... because we'd hate to "encourage them". But really... wouldn't we rather have them masturbating than potentially reproducing? Not to diverge too much here.
Another bit I learned recently is that the story was inspired by the author's own son.
(Just a brief note on the cover shown: This is not actually the cover of the copy I own. I only mention that because the cover on the copy I own is way better! It's a dejected looking boy (Jerry Renault) in football uniform alone on the ball field with the school looming in the distance.)
Recommendation: If you enjoy the setup of an all boys private school (which I seem to) and you appreciate young adult books that tackle tough themes, The Chocolate War will not disappoint.