5 of 15: “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier

Book 5 in my 15/15/15 project will be The Chocolate War, the young-adult classic by Robert Cormier, when I finish it…

Later: I’m now finished reading Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War, which I should have read as a young adult, and am glad now to have rectified that oversight.

Cormier was one of the avant garde in the young-adult fiction arena. He wrote complex, dark tales that featured young-adult protagonists. These books appealed to adults, but also to teens in search of more gritty fare than the boy adventures and girl romances that were the norm for the era. Reading Cormier again (here are my reviews of I Am the Cheese and All Fall Down), I’m reminded of how thin many modern YA books feel to me. The Chocolate War is short but dense, with complex characters and emotional shadings. The Newbery-Award winning When You Reach Me was very good, but didn’t mine nearly the depth that this YA classic did, in my opinion.

Jerry Renault is a freshman at a private Catholic day school in New England. He hopes to make the football team, and is struggling emotionally in the wake of his mother’s death from cancer. Archie Costello is the psychologically savvy leader of an underground group called The Vigils. Archie creates and assigns tasks to new recruits, and coordinates the actions of members as he likes. Brother Leon is the interim head of the school who buys 20,000 boxes of cut-rate chocolate for the school fund raiser and uses various means and methods to make sure it all sells. Leon and Archie are frightening characters; they’re smart and powerful. So when skinny little Renault protests, it’s clear bad things will happen. And they do, though not without the characters learning a great deal of unpleasant truth about one another.

Cormier skillfully creates and deftly characterizes an impressively large cast. The opening sentence sets the tone, and the author doesn’t flinch from it:

They murdered him.

He also places great trust and power in the reader. Not all questions are answered in the end, and while many conflicts come to a climax, few end neatly. This book brought to mind any number of other classics on the culture of secondary school, peer pressure, and the violence of crowds, not least of which was its homage to the myth of the death of Jesus. Powerful, sobering, provocative, The Chocolate War deeply impressed me.

What are you reading? Share your books and reviews in the comments.I’m not sure spring is the best time for this project–winter would probably be better for more indoor, inner-focus time. But I’ll plug away. I figured this would be an attempt, not a done deal.

10 Responses to “5 of 15: “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier”

  1. Amy Says:

    I went light yesterday with Kafka’s Soup: http://www.newcenturyreading.com/2010/04/the-151515-projectday-5.html

  2. Amy Says:

    And for what it’s worth, I was feeling OK about my progress–I’m generally finishing in a rush, but getting done–when I looked at my calendar and realized I have a full-day seminar in Minneapolis on Friday. Yikes. Not going to be able to squeeze in much reading then. Good thing I’ll have the weekend to catch up!

    You know when this would be fun to repeat? Right after Christmas, or early January.

  3. Inquirer Says:

    5 of 15 … 39 Clues Book 8: The Emperor’s Code. Am I really 1/3 of the way through?


  4. Farheen Says:

    I attempted a very light read on the fifth day, Roald Dahl’s autobiography, Going Solo. A light, pleasant and interesting read. I’m having a difficult time today and might just drag a few pages of day 6/book 6 into day 7! That’s not cheating, is it?


  5. Jessica Snell Says:

    I’m reading a bunch of shorter ones today to give myself space to tackle a couple of longer ones on the weekend - hope that’s not breaking with the spirit of the thing!

    Here’s what I read yesterday:


    btw, I have to say: I’m really enjoying this. It reminds me of college, because I’m just reading what’s next on the list, rather than what I feel like at the moment. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to sometimes suit yourself to your reading rather than suiting your reading to yourself. It’s a nice discipline, for a change.

  6. girldetective Says:

    Amy, I think winter would be a much better time, which is when I originally envisioned doing this. If it’s a success, I’ll try it again this winter, post-Christmas.

    Jessica, thanks for your comment on the pleasure/drawback of a reading list. One reason I wanted a 2 week time period was so that it wasn’t TOO long. I’m giving myself some flexibility, as I have probably 2 dozen books that could work for this, and going with whichever of those seems to be inching off its shelf. But I like the fact that I’ve pulled these books a candidates, and narrowed my choices to the narrower choices on my bookshelves, which feel less intimidating than, say the Dickens or Stephenson tomes.

    I’m interested to see how many of us are wondering about “cheating”. This is a self-imposed reading challenge, a lark. Would we be wondering about cheating if we were men?

    The goal is to finish 15 books in 15 days, and you can interpret that as you will. Have fun; enjoy the books! Feel good about whittling down the TBR pile!

  7. Amy Says:

    Hee, yes, I’ve been worried about cheating! My book today–which I just finished–felt awfully easy. But I’m hoping to go wild over the weekend and maybe even get a book ahead for the week to come. You’re right–it’s a lark–and it is a treat to dive so seriously into reading quantities.

  8. SFP Says:

    I didn’t read Chocolate War until after I was grown. It’s a powerful read for sure.

    I’ve got books five and six here.


  9. ChristineMM Says:

    Ahh! I can’t keep up! On this day I went to hear an author speak and had dinner after with a friend. Hey at least I did something book related. Well I did read a little…

  10. Sherry Says:

    Book 5: The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It was long, but I flew through this one. I loved it.