Three months ago while I was bloggish feverishly about my adventures at the EBF, I was also reading some astounding literature. Time has been of the essence since then and I am still trying to catch up on a review or two. Having burned itself into my mind, Robert Cormier’s young-adult classic from 1974 is a must blog. So here I am must-blogging.
34 years after its initial publication The Chocolate War recognised as one of the best young adult titles ever, remains one of the most challenged books in the USA – challenged in the sense that parents do not believe it should be part of the school curriculum nor should it be stocked on library shelves. Its themes of corruption, betrayal, vicitimization and conspiracy within a boy’s private school are portrayed in a vivid and uncompromising way. The cruelty of the boys to each other, the helplessness of the victims and the bravery of the young protagonist Jerry Renault who “dares to disturb the universe” simply leap from the pages. From the sinister first chapter in which Jerry rejoicing in his skill as a rugby player, is watched by two members of the Vigils, the school’s secret society, you know it is all going to end in a train wreck. The shock quotient is phenomenal – off the scale almost. How are the Vigils allowed to rule the roost? Because the head master, Brother Leon, is complicit. The Vigils, without knowing it, serve his purposes.
Yet along the way there is riotous laughter – such as the lesson in which the classroom furniture collapses because all the screws have been removed from it. A chapter which lightens the mood but serves a literary purpose also. A foreshadowing of the tragedy to come. As with the furniture, each support is systematically removed from Jerry, before the knockout blow is delivered.
I was reading from behind my fingers. The book is unbearable to watch, yet impossible to put down. My blood pressure has risen while writing this review. Worse still, there’s a sequel. The Chocolate War ending as a second war begins to brew – a civil war within the Vigils. There’s a few characters needing their comeuppance. Will they get it in Beyond the Chocolate War, I wonder?
WINNER 1974 – School Library Journal Best Books of the Year
WINNER 1974 – ALA Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER 1974 – ALA the Best of the Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER 1974 – New York Times Notable Books of the Year