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on November 21, 2001
Reading Cormier's swan song is all the sadder for knowing it's his swan song. His time to be re-evaluated as a master of fiction, not just a master of young-adult fiction, is long overdue. In any event, the bulk of this one is a prolonged and bruising interrogation. A seven-year-old girl has been found murdered. Twelve-year-old Jason Dorrant is the prime suspect, though there's no 'physical evidence' to link him to the crime. Trent, a hotshot interrogator brought in to speed the case to closure, grills the boy. This being Cormier, you're pretty sure Jason is innocent, but only pretty sure. Hence the compassion and cruelty of Cormier's method -- sometimes when reading the latest Cormier book (including this one) you'd sort of get mad at him for creating such likable, sympathetic characters and then putting them into the meat grinder. But he made you care, so it was impossible to stay mad even if you hated what happened to the good people in his work.
This is classic Cormier -- childhood innocence broken on the rack of adult corruption (the town officials want to point the finger at Jason because they want SOMEONE to take the fall); sensitive and alert rendering of shifting moods and thoughts (Cormier's books have always been too interiorized to allow for good movie adaptations; I wouldn't want to see Hollywood attempt this one); the sense that evil often prevails, but that doesn't mean good shouldn't try anyway; and, most vividly, one of the most chilling final lines in all of Cormier. I sort of wish Cormier had left us with something a little more optimistic, but he was never particularly optimistic, just realistic. And his complex portrait of Trent -- as a man who has grown to hate what he does and who he is, but does it anyway because it's necessary and he happens to be skilled at it -- separates Cormier from many youth-flattering authors who indulge in easy kids=good, adults=bad equations. Cormier was about the messier arithmetic of the human soul. It's a shame he's not still out there crunching those numbers. He will be missed.
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on July 1, 2002
The Rag and Bone Shop, Robert Cormier's last book before his death, is not for the young or faint of heart.
Interrogated by an expert, 12 yr. old Jason cannot avoid linking himself to the murdered 7 yr old. Does what he say cause him to become someone different? In the windowless interrogation room he perceives the double-edged sword of reality and its underlying currents of suspicion and need. This book is for mature readers because the seemingly simple story twists and turns into a stark fatal attraction. Are truth and justice found in the rag and bone shop? The suspense builds with each answer that Jason gives. Like writing an epitaph on a tombstone, author Robert Cormier lures the reader into formulating and answering a poignant question. And not until the end does he...reader, this is a master at work; you'll not want to close the cover of this powerful, slim book.
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on October 16, 2001
How I wish Robert Cormier was alive right now so I could call him up and tell him exactly what I thought of this wonderful book. It was pretty obvious to me from the beginning who committed the crime. The question was: would Jason confess? When I heard about this book I figured it would be some combination of the elements of Cormier's previous books "Tenderness" and "I am the Cheese". Trent is not like Brint, but in the end they acted very much the same. And Jason is no Eric Poole...until the end. I read the second-to-last chapter and thought, "Whew." Then I read the final pages and I was like "Oh my god..." This book is like the grand finale at the end of a fireworks show. Good work, Robert!
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on January 19, 2002
Robert Cormier doesn't waste words. In his lifetime, he penned over 25 young adult novels...each one a gem in its own right. With "Rag and Bone Shop", he delves into darker territory with a precise economy of words, but doesn't ignore the deep emotional territory on which he treads...or at least his characters.
Telling the tale of Jason Dorrant, a middle-school youngster who is accused of killing his friends younger sister, Alicia Bartlett, Cormier drives the story along quickly and deftly. In a political (aren't they all?) manuever, local officials bring in Trent, an ace interrigator, who is known for eliciting confessions from even the most innocent suspects. Jason is brought into the local police station, and sequestered with Trent, who is undergoing some personal doubts about himself, the fairly recent death of his wife, and about the young man he is hired to make confess.
Cormier handles this taut, suspenseful story with guts and grit, drawing his characters with broad strokes, but making them feel like we've known them for some time.
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on February 13, 2007
The last of Robert Cormier's 16 novels, THE RAG AND BONE SHOP is a chilling conclusion to this writer's fabulous career and life (January 17, 1925 - November 2, 2000). I can't say I've ever finished a book and felt the way I did after this one. Far from a happy ending, it'll have you thinking for hours.

"I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart." ~ William Butler Yeats

The district has called in expert interrogator Trent for a special case. The whole town of Monument is riled up and wants a confession. They need a perp to make themselves feel better. Seven-year-old Alicia Bartlett's body is found in the trees a short ways off the path with no physical evidence. All they have to go on is the last person to see her alive, twelve-year-old Jason Dorrant.

Jason has a short history of violence, but if someone were to ask him about it, he would say that punching Bobo Kelton was necessary. After all, he'd touched little Alicia inappropriately, and no one had done anything about it, not even Alicia. Alicia intrigues Jason. She's honest, smart, expert at puzzles, and befriends him when the rest of the world doesn't.

The trouble is that Alicia's dead now. Trent needs a confession to move further up the ranks. Jason's trapped without an alibi. And the town wants blood. The tale Cormier weaves from this situation amounts to a social statement, or question, about the roles adults have in the formation of young lives. Are we innately good, or evil? Or perhaps we are forever changed by certain events of our lives, ones we'll never be able to forget, ones we'll eventually have to act on before our minds take over.

-- Reviewed by Jonathan Stephens
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on July 19, 2015
I'd read an article where the author mentioned having read Mr. Cormier's book during childhood. I found the book, aside from being well written, tells a cautionary tale without any 'icing on the top.' I would recommend Mr. Cormier's books to 7th grade and up.
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on July 29, 2004
Robert Cormier's final novel, THE RAG AND BONE SHOP, takes its name from a line in a poem by William Butler Yeats --- "I must lie down where all the ladders start/In the foul rag?and?bone shop of the heart." In this novel, Cormier explores the lengths to which a person might go. In the end, both of the book's main characters discover they have gone too far.

Jason Dorrant is 12 years old and something of a misfit. Quiet and shy, he is more comfortable around younger children than around his peers. For this reason, he is considered "slow" by people in his town. Jason has some friends, but they tend to be little kids like his 7?year?old pal Alicia Bartlett. THE RAG AND BONE SHOP reveals what happens after Alicia is discovered dead.

It turns out that Jason had visited Alicia the day of her death. Jason wants to do all he can to help the police catch her killer. He agrees to tell them everything he knows. The police, meanwhile, suspect that Jason is the killer. They turn to a man named Mr. Trent who specializes in interrogation. Trent has never failed to get a criminal to confess. He is especially motivated in this case --- a senator with an interest in Alicia's murder has promised to help his career if he gets a confession.

A good portion of the book takes place in a small, hot, windowless room --- the interrogation room. Cormier describes it in enough detail to make the reader as uncomfortable as Jason is while he is being questioned. The way Trent works is also detailed --- first he does everything he can to gain Jason's trust, then Trent tries to persuade him to confess to killing his young friend. At the same time, Jason struggles to understand both what Trent wants from him and what he remembers about Alicia's last day alive.

Cormier moved smoothly between the two characters' points of view, building suspense and driving the story to its powerful conclusion --- a conclusion with no winners.

Although the book is very nearly flawless, it may be one chapter too long. The final chapter concerns the aftermath of Jason's experience with Trent. It wraps up the book with a shocking surprise, but it also seems a bit unrealistic, taking a believable story and stretching our ability to believe it a little too far. The chapter is unnecessary due to the excellent job Cormier did describing Jason late in the book.

Even with the last chapter, however, THE RAG AND BONE SHOP, like many of Cormier's classics, including THE CHOCOLATE WAR, is a dark and fascinating book. Cormier died in November of 2000 at the age of 75, but THE RAG AND BONE SHOP clearly reveals that he was still at the top of his game, writing in his characteristic uncluttered style and making full and powerful use of his knack for revealing the motivations of his characters in this suspenseful and sad story. Part mystery and part cautionary tale, THE RAG AND BONE SHOP is a fine finale to Cormier's career.

(...)
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on December 8, 2003
The book the Rag and Bone Shop, by Robert Cormier is an intriguing, suspenseful book that keeps you guessing until the very end. Twelve year-old Jason Dorrant has trouble fitting in at his school or with kids his age. Being an unpopular child he is striving to find someone to hang out with or be friends with and one of his options is hanging out with 7 year-old Alicia Bartlett, who is a mature child that loves to do jigsaw puzzles with Jason. One summer afternoon after Jason left Alicia's house he finds out that Alicia was brutally murdered about at the time he left. Having no leads, or evidence, the police assume Jason is the only possible suspect and to make things worse Jason has no alibi. So an interrogator is called to jostle a confession out of Jason because this case would never last in court with out evidence and the public was beginning to feel uneasy about a murderer on the loose. Everyone was accusing Jason of being the murderer and it is kind of ironic that Jason was the last person to see Alicia except for the murderer, unless of course Jason is the murderer.
I really enjoyed this well written book. I liked the writing style that Robert Cormier brought out because it was easy but descriptive novel. I also liked how it had just enough character description to keep you interested but you were not overloaded with facts about each individual character. I also enjoyed how Jason was clueless of what was going on throughout most of the book. One of the most intriguing parts of the book for me though was the way the author was able to show the mind of an interrogator so well. Although this book was an interesting, well-written book there were aspects of The Rag and Bone Shop that I did not enjoy. I did not enjoy how the reader never met darling Alicia because then I did not get a great since of her character. I also did not enjoy how there was a very slow long beginning and middle and then it ended all of a sudden with out very much detail as of why it ended the way it did. The ending having to do with Jason did not fit his character either and I think that Cormier could have done better with showing his character differently, maybe even using foreshadowing. Other than these main aspects I would give this book an excellent grade.
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on December 10, 2003
Jason Dorrant is a young boy in middle school. He never shares his answers in school and is extremely shy. He doesn't have many friends and hates attention being on him. He loves his sister, and family; his sister and him have a great relationship between each other. He saw Bobo Kelton touch Robecca Tolland in an odd way. He wasn't going to let that slide, so he hit Bobo in the face. This is when everything turned around. Later he found out that Alicia Barlett was killed. He was friends with Alicia, and was the last person to see her. Since he was the last one to see her he got the blame. Every one in town was suspicious of him.
This novel had many things that I enjoyed in it. I liked how it kept you on your toes because everything kept turning around. The story was like a roller coaster. It had many great points and some bad. There were greater points then the horrible ones. It was descript, but it still got to the point. The characters all had many great attributes about them and painted a 3D picture in your head.
I didn't enjoy a couple things in this novel. The story switches from one person to the next. So it was hard to tell whom telling the story. The plot confused me, but it all came together at the end. It wasn't that interesting in the room where Jason was being tested until the end of the scene. It was just boring; it had some great points though.
All in all I would recommend this novel. The overall aspects are exceedingly high for the title. It is creepy at times when you think about the murder, but it was mature enough to not get to scary. It had many intelligent ideas, but also an easy read. If you like a something interesting but short this would be a good idea. The writing concept was formal and nice to read.
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on November 24, 2015
Prepare to feel BAD. Just...just really, bad. A young girl is murdered, and her somewhat developmentally delayed friend is the last one to see her alive. Political pressure pushes the police to get a confession, so a skilled interrogator is brought in. The reader will see immediately who the real murderer is, but must sit and watch as the young boy is systematically torn apart.

Undoubtedly a criticism of modern police work, where a conviction is more important than justice. This is a kid's book, but you'll want to make sure your kid is okay if they're reading it. I'm an adult and I was pretty depressed at the end. Be ready for some real talk that, at present, sadly has no happy ending.

I listened to the audiobook version of this, and found it generally adequate. The voices are all distinguishable, and the reader does a good job conveying the proper tension. It's not award-worthy, but it's overall good.
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