Wednesday, April 30, 2008

BOOK: The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Young Adult Challenge, Cardathon, decades challenge 1970s

Quite a disturbing book, but it gets its message across: the abuse of power and the power of bullies. And unfortunately, the ending is probably too much like real life.

Jerry is a freshman at a boys' school in New England, trying to fit in. The secret school group, The Vigils, hands out assignments that nobody dares to challenge, even though everyone seems to hate it, even most of the ones involved. There are teachers who tacitly approve of the group and even find ways to use the group to their advantage. Jerry is told to refuse to sell chocolates at the school fundraiser, and then decides to continue to not to sell them. This blatant refusal to conform gets others in a snit, and Jerry in a heap of trouble.

There is way too much testosterone in this book. All the characters are male and the only females barely mentioned are the objects of the teenage boys ogling, referred very crudely as 'rape by eyeball', a line which extremely disturbed me. The cruelty of the teacher Brother Leon, who sets an example of tyranny and abuse of power that the Vigils emulate, was not fun to read about. There was violence and psychological cruelty and we don't get to understand any of the motives or enough of the thoughts of the characters. We are sort of rooting for Jerry and his friend Goober, but we aren't allowed inside their characters enough. I wasn't pleased that the ultimate message was to conform, but in real life, you have to do what you can to survive.

Still, the book was good because it was able to evoke all these uncomfortable feelings in me. A teenager struggling in a similar situation could at least identify with the struggles of the boys, although nobody really gets their comeuppance in the story. In that way it is far too similar to real life. We see lots of bullies get away with treating people horribly, just within the lines of the law with no repercussions. I believe those people do eventually get consequences, in the form of karma. They eventually push the wrong person and discover what they have done to others. Like the former student of mine who was a bully and mean to people, and years later, I read in the paper he was involved in a road rage incident and was shot in the groin region. I'm not happy he got shot and don't condone violence, but it did seem like the universe was settling a score.


1 comment:

Trish said...

I think my sister gave this book to my brother (who is much younger--11) a few years ago for Christmas. No wonder he hasn't read it yet! For some reason I thought I really needed to read this book, but I don't think I'll be rushing to get it anytime soon.