Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier


So I'm doing this thing where I reread some of the books that made a big impression on me as a teen. I'm calling it the "literary sad girl canon" because it's basically a collection of depressive and precocious mopey teen lit, because I was a depressive and precocious mopey teen, and I REALLY wish Goodreads had been around when I was a kid, because if someone had put together a list like this for ME back then, I probably would have dissolved into weepy tears of gratitude.

THE CHOCOLATE WAR is a really intense book that kind of looks at the innate predilections for cruelty that dwell within team boys. If you've read LORD OF THE FLIES or THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE, you will know what to expect. If you haven't, then you might be one of the one-star reviews for this book bemoaning the fact that somebody wrote this without first thinking of the children! I kid, but seriously. The way Cormier dissected the psyches of the kids-- and adults-- in this story gave me chills the first time I read it, and it still left me feeling cold even now. It's brutal. Especially the ending.

The premise is simple. At a Christian all boys' school, there is a fund-raiser being held where the boys have to sell chocolates. One of the unscrupulous Brothers ordered twice as many as normal (in what smacks of a fraudulent racket) and has enlisted the school's secret society to aid him in selling the chocolates. At the same time, Jerry Renault, one of the new boys, has landed on the secret society's radar for holding his head too high. When a prank goes too far, and pride reaches its stretching points, Jerry finds himself facing down against not just the secret society... but also the whole school.

I guess how much you enjoy this book will depend on your need for stories that have a life-affirming world-view. THE CHOCOLATE WAR portrays a world where evil often triumphs and even though that's sometimes true, I think it's something a lot of us wish wasn't true, and might not want to read about in books (judging by some of the reviews). I personally really liked it and I am surprised it was a banned book because it doesn't seem that much worse than other things I have read, but as a character study and a tightly-paced thriller, it's fascinating and doesn't condescend to its audience.

4 out of 5 stars

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