The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
If you've ever tried writing a one-sentence summary of The Chocolate War, then you know that it can be a bit of a challenge to describe this book without making it sound foolish. Just the fact that the plot centers around the bullying a classmate because he doesn't want to chocolate for the school's annual fundraiser makes it seem...childish? petty? like a silly kids book? And yet, it is anything but childish, petty or a silly kids book. The Library of Congress summary reads as such: "A high school freshman discovers the devastating consequences of refusing to join in the school's annual fundraising drive and arousing the wrath of the school bullies." That's a little better, but I'm still not convinced that this is the type of book that sounds like it should be in the top ten of the Top 100 Challenged Books for both of the last two decades (while The Chocolate War was published in 1974, ALA only started tracking in 1990) for it's violent and sexual content. So how about this one-sentence summary instead:
What started as an initiation prank for a high school secret society escalates into a stand-off that pits one student against the students and administration and could wind up costing Jerry everything he has, including his life.
That's a little better, right? I sure hope so, since it took me about an hour to come up with that. But what if I had more than one sentence? What would I add?
- The point of view of the novel shifts from one chapter to next, gradually unveiling the depths of corruption at play, the motivations of each character and the lengths that certain individuals will go to in order to maintain power.
- The novel's central question revolved around a quote from T.S. Eliot that is posted in Jerry's locker: "Do I dare disturb the universe?" And if so, at what cost?
- The novel was published in 1974 it is among the first novels written specifically for young adults.
- It is often compared to works like Golding's Lord of the Flies and Knowles A Separate Peace, which also feature all-male casts of prep-school rivals. What makes The Chocolate War stand out from these two other works (I think, at least) is the presence of a complicit adult who knowingly allows boys to wield power over one another for personal benefit.
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