132 of 145 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bittersweet chocolate
It's difficult to review "The Chocolate War" because so much has already been said about it. The painful story of one boy's steadfast refusal to sell chocolates for his high school, and the consequences he faces for such a decision is as brilliant and difficult to read as ever. This isn't to say that the book is difficult to read stylistically. Instead, it's a well...
Published on March 29, 2004 by E. R. Bird
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Chocolate War - interesting failure
As an adolescent novel, The Chocolate War lacks the sophicasted, gloomy realism of John Knowle's "A Separate Peace" and "The Lord of Flies", nor does it have the obvious fantastic, supernatural elements of a Harry Potter book. For this reason, the story is trapped between realism and nonrealism, and suffers a bit. While many of Cormier's characters are well conceived...
Published on November 13, 2002
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132 of 145 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bittersweet chocolate,
It's difficult to review "The Chocolate War" because so much has already been said about it. The painful story of one boy's steadfast refusal to sell chocolates for his high school, and the consequences he faces for such a decision is as brilliant and difficult to read as ever. This isn't to say that the book is difficult to read stylistically. Instead, it's a well written tour de force that slyly invites the reader to know more about the characters, even as the situations described grow worse and worse.
Cormier is to be commended for creating one of the world's first young adult psychological thrillers. Though the end of the book does disintegrate into needless violence, most of this story concerns mental anguishes and locked horns as characters vie for superiority over their fellows without fisticuffs. There's some interest in figuring out who the book's protagonist is too. Our sympathies lie, of course, with poor Jerry Renault. Here's the single man poised to challenge the universe around him. Then there's Archie Costello. Leader of the school's secret society and an interesting portrait of someone both evil and amazingly confident he works his hardest to bring Renault down. Both boys (men?) fight. One for what he believes is right, and the other for his own selfish desires. In the end, it is difficult to accept that the man who has ended up on top is entirely less deserving.
The book's downbeat ending, in which our hero declares that it is never wise to buck the system, has always brought the book under a certain amount of fire. Adults who read this book find themselves trying to shield it from their own kids. Which is, of course, patently ridiculous. Any kid who has ever attended activities with others their own age will instantly recognize the fear and intimidation their peers can inspire. The book's excellent understanding of how large groups of people will stay silent when one of them is being persecuted, because none of them want to be singled out, is drilled home in the story's final climactic boxing match. Better still, Cormier truly explores the nature of violence in every human being. Archie understands it, and sets up a situation where the kids of the school participate in something akin to the gladiator fights of ancient Rome. The final atrocity Archie manages to perpetuate against Jerry is that he makes the kid himself want to taste blood. To give in to the violence around him. It's heartbreaking and amazingly well written.
The fact that there's a sequel to "The Chocolate War" depresses me on some level. This is one book I really felt stood on its own. We can imagine the repercussions that occur later well enough without having to rely on a continuation of some sort. Either the sequel will simply establish the first book's moral (disturbing the status quo may well kill you) or it will trump everything the first book ever proposed (now the good guys win and the bad guys suffer). In any case, "The Chocolate War" is well worth reading. Painful reading, yes. Sometimes difficult and sometimes unsentimental. I myself am going to go curl up with "Charlotte's Web" to get the taste of the book out of my mouth. But every kid in the world should read it. It is perhaps the best young adult novel ever written.
47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Vividly Descriptive Novel,
The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier, brings you into the life of a young teenager named Jerry Renault. This book not only shows a reader the world of teenage boys; it puts the reader in the shoes of the three main characters. Cormier brings them to life by realistically describing the character's feelings. The unique writing style of Cormier allows readers to truly understand the feelings of each and every character. "I'm getting tired of selling this crap. The kid's probably go the right idea." Trinity, the school where The Chocolate War takes plce, is running its annual ritual of selling chocolates to raise money. Selling the chocolates is supposedly voluntary, but Brother Leon, the assistant head of the school has some other things up his sleeves. When Jerry Renault, a meek freshman of Trinity, and the new kid in school, decides not to sell the chocolates, Brother Leon becomes desperate because he can't get Jerry to sell chocolates. Jerry's defiance is trickling down to other students as well, and when things get out of hand, Leon askes the Vigils, the school gang, for help. For an unknown reason, the number of chocolate boxes and the price of each box are doubled this year. Leon knows that the students will not be particularly excited to sell these chocolates, so he askes the Vigils to step in and urge students to sell more and more chocolates. There are certain 'assignments' that the Vigils give to the students of the school, and if these assignments are not carried out, there are severe consequences. When Jerry decides not to sell the chocolates, the Vigils start assigning things, and everything begins to go wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed this book when I read it and I particularly enjoyed the writing style of Cormier. The way he organized the book, and the way he used descriptive words in every sentence, allowed me to think and feel everything the characters did.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Chocolate War, A Truly Great Teenage Style Novel,
It was almost time for the biggest event of the year at Trinity High School, the chocolate sale. There is one problem, they had to sell twice as many boxes as the past year, and for twice the amount of money. The head of the school, Brother Leon, asks of Archie Costello and the Vigils' help to sell that much chocolate. Archie assures Brother Leon of his support, and agrees to help sell all of the chocolate. The Vigils are a group of students that don't officially exist, although everybody knows they do. They have all of the power in the school, whatever they want to happen, happens. For a strange reason, it is like they have a power over the teachers also. What they mainly do is pick children, usually lower-classmen, to complete one of their assignments. Although Carter, a popular athlete, is the President of the Vigils, the true leader is the Assignor, Archie Costello. Archie is very slick, he is always two steps ahead of everybody he is talking to, and nobody can ever deceive him. The first assignment within the book is assigned to a freshman called Goober. He is assigned to sneak into room nineteen, Brother Eugene's room, when everybody is gone. In his room Goober is to loosen every screw in his room to where it will fall out if anything touches it. Likewise, the assignment is completed. The next morning everybody comes into room nineteen and the disaster occurs. All of the desks collapse, even when a book is placed on one. When Brother Eugene enters the room, he hurries to his desk, and that collapses also. He is a wreck and is never seen again. Of course, Goober feels bad about what he has done. When it is finally time for the chocolate sale, Jerry Renault, another freshman, gets a note in his locker to attend the next Vigil meeting. Jerry is assigned to not sell any chocolates for ten days. Each day, when Brother Leon calls the roll call to see how many boxes of chocolates have been sold, Jerry replies "No." He refuses to sell the chocolates. Once his ten days are over, he continues to refuse to sell the chocolates. This is not a problem at first because the whole school is selling chocolate, except for Jerry. After a while, people begin to think about what Jerry is doing, and decide that they will not sell the chocolates either. At first, Archie does not care, but then he remembers that he promised Brother Leon that the chocolates would be sold. Archie now has to go to work, and indeed he does. First he has to make selling chocolates the thing to do; he has to make it cool to sell chocolates, which he does. Now jerry must sell the chocolates, which won't be as easy as making it cool to sell chocolates. Read the rest of the book to find out if Jerry ends up selling the chocolates, and what Archie does in his endeavor to make Jerry sell them. Also, you will find out what happens after the chocolate sale, which is very surprising.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars cruelty and conformity share this bleak novel,
I feel I need to defend this novel, especially after the plethora of negative reviews.
Often in childrens/YA novels good v. evil is played out in fantasy terms, (witches, demons, etc.) but this novel disturbs the universe and places real people in real situations. A freshman at a private high school decides to "disturb the universe", and soon realizes that he may have overstepped his bounds. The shifting narrative is very distinct and unique, yet sometimes confusing. This is a great novel for classroom discussion with some strong themes: to include, courage & cowardice, peer pressure, victimization, individualism, good v. evil and god and religion. The ending is unconventional and truely climatic, can you remember when you first realized that life is not fair, and sometimes doesn't come close to being fair?
This book opened up the new genre of YA literature, and Cormier certainly "disturbed the universe" with its publication. This book is constantly under the eye of parent groups who would like to see it "banned" or placed on a restricted list(recently under pressure from a parent's group here in VA)...because that is the case, it should be required reading for all teenagers. If you are younger, you may want to read Spinelli's WRINGER: a story so foul, so horrifying with peer pressure that it should be shelved next to Cormier's The Chocolate War.
As a children's librarian, I will continue to offer Cormier's books because he refuses to compromise the truth as he sees it.
For an indepth look at Cormier's writing try: PRESENTING ROBERT CORMIER Twayne Publishers
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for the weak of heart,
Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War, is a book of intense magnification into the dark side of human nautre. The book is a constant barrage of sexual references, perversion, pain, violence, mind games, greed, power, and corruption. Jerry Renault finds himself pitted against this dark side of man's nautre and must struggle just to survive. Archie, (archenemy) the personification of eveil, preys on the weakness of the faculty and students of Trinity. Archie never seems to be wrong in his ability to take advantage of people's weaknesses. He undermines the moral fiber of the school for his own self gratification. Although he loves what he does, he hates it at the same time. With the help of his flunky Obie (obey), who hates and admires Archie, and Father Leon (Lion), a hateful, power hungry, sadistic man, he makes his evil plans. In Archie's quest for absolute control and power, he must break the will of Jerry Renault, who has dared to defy him with his new-found belief that, "Do I dare to disturb the universe?" Maybe I do dare. Robert Cormier's ability to create psychological scenarios takes a great amount of skill and talent to keep the story interesting, believable and flowing. The author lets us peek into the minds of the many charaters, helping us to discover what makes them tick. Despite the violence and sexual remarks adults will find in it, this book transcends those things adults may find objectionable. It illuminates some very important issures about life that we often are too inhibited to talk about such as masturbation, peer pressure, violence and death. This book will relate to young adult readers. One of the most importan issures focuses on the fact that people should stand up for themselves when they know they are right. People acting like sheep allowed the Nazis and Hitler to take control of Germany and kill millions of Jews. It is also true that street gangs which are prevalent in today's society can be just as vicious, using the same tactics as the Nazis. This book can also be looked at on a religious level. At the end of the book the reader can see where Jerry can be viewed as Christ being sacrificed on the cross. There also have been other passages that made reference to religion, such as parting of the student as if Moses was parting the Red Sea. Also I felt that Goober could have been Paul when he shut himself off from Jerry when things started to get tuff. But he was there in the end of the book for Jerry after he had been severely beaten. Janza could be viewed as the Roman soldier or the SS for Hitler. Either way he enjoyed inflicting pain, in a perverse way. Robert Cormier does not end his book on a happy note. By making the ending so graphic and violent, it forces the reader to doubt Jerry's decision to refuse to sell the candy at all cost. The reader is forced to take a hard look at the wisdom of Jerry's decision. Did he do the right thing or not? I think he did do the right thing.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Chocolate War - interesting failure,
By A Customer
As an adolescent novel, The Chocolate War lacks the sophicasted, gloomy realism of John Knowle's "A Separate Peace" and "The Lord of Flies", nor does it have the obvious fantastic, supernatural elements of a Harry Potter book. For this reason, the story is trapped between realism and nonrealism, and suffers a bit. While many of Cormier's characters are well conceived and the circumstances surrounding the chocolate sale slightly plausible, there are many elements that border upon ridiculous; and this wouldn't be a problem if this book was narrated as a type of spoof or Hardy Boys adventure, but instead it's presented as a macabre, realistic account of high school.
I suppose I have scutinized the novel and its incongruencies a tad too much because I went to an all-male catholic high school in Massachusetts which was drastically different from this one.
Here are some of the ludicrous elements:
1. The ascension of Brother Leon to almost dictatorial status - Generally in Catholic High Schools, there are usually more than one Brother around making sure things are going okay. It's implausible that the other faculty, not to mention the parents, would let him and the students get away with all these antics. Maybe at a boarding school it's somewhat more believable.
2. Ordering 20,000 bars of chocolate beforehand and having them in the office is preposterous. Surely, this would incur the wrath of the other faculty. And since when do teachers browbeat students who don't do fund raisers, and not have the students retaliate in some way?
3. The students allowing the boxing match at the end to happen and continue for that matter once it became obvious someone was getting hurt, and their sudden malice for Jerry. It's inconceivable how quickly everybody changes their tune from admiring him to hating him. This works okay in a movie but not as convincing in a book. It felt like I was reading a Matthew Christopher book.
4. The unchecked power of the Vigils. As stated in the book, there are only ten or so in the club. Surely, there are other factions in the school who wouldn't stand for their bullying. Like the other athletes? While reading it, I was enraged at them, hated them and would have done anything to fight back against them -- I imagine that others besides Goober, Jerry and that Senior Guy who gets punched in the stomach would do something to rebel against them as well. There's no inclusion of a rival group at another school either, which could have served as an explanation why the Vigils had such sway over the student body -- as a means to defend and honor the school.
5. Why the Vigils care so much about the chocolate sale -- a group of people who orchestrate a boxing match of that sort are unlikely to be so disciplined in selling the candy and so desiriring to please Brother Leon.
6. The overall maturity of the characters seem more consistent with junior high students rather than high school ones. Cormier misses his mark on this one.
Well, that's all the griping I can stand. There were some delighful parts of the book as well. I especially liked some of the character descriptions - Tubs, Gouber, and even Archie the fiendish manipulator. However, Obie was poorly shown as were the other Vigil disciples. The two fight scenes involving Janza and Jerry were riveting and flowed effortlessly.
The opening paragraph is wonderful, and the first line imbues a sense of helplessness to Jerry's plight and forshadows the course of his life. "He was murdered." Of course, the reader finds out what happens to Jerry in "Beyond the Choc.", but as this novel ends, the inconclusive ending is excellent. Is Jerry alive or dead? Severely maimed?
Having read "Beyond the Choc War" first, I took for granted many of the characters and scenes in this book, but I'm not sure how they I would have perceived them had I read this one first. In many ways, there are extraneous characters here with only a few pages of description - David Corina, Tubs etc. Perhaps, Cormier realized he should have spent more time with the major characters or at least developed the minor ones and thus decided to continue the saga.
So, in summary, the book is wonderful in many ways if a reader can overcome his/her own realistic visions of high school and adolescence; but because i could not do so wholly, I deem it an interestic yet flawed work.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do I dare disturb the universe?,
Few books have left as lasting an impact on me as The Chocolate War. Like Jerry Renault, I too remember the subtle and not-so-subtle cruelties people inflict on each other in school. Like him, I know what it is like to feel peer pressure and to feel despair over the direction your life seems to be taking and the need to make your mark. So I understood why Jerry felt he had to rebel against the evil rulers of the school. Getting ostrasized and beaten was preferrable to staying invisible and allowing the evil authority figures to get their way.
Robert Cormier was truly an incredible author whom I will sorely miss. Unlike other young adult authors, Cormier understood that adolescence is not necessarily a happy time of life. I think that's why I gravitated towards him when I was a teenager instead of other young adult authors who wrote chirpy upbeat teen books. Cormier might be depressing, but he certainly leaves an impression on you.
What I found especially disturbing about this book was the way the adults condoned the actions of the Vigils by turning a blind eye to them. I too remember in school how teachers sometimes turned a blind eye to subtle bullying because they didn't want to deal with it. The Vigils bring order to the school which is what the brothers want. The boys' parents send them to Trinity as they believe the school will bring them up right. Brother Leon even employs the Vigils to bring down a rebel student. For that matter, what about the way the students turn a blind eye to Jerry's plight? Even Jerry's friend the Goober is not there for Jerry when he needs him. Like Simon Peter, the Goober lets Jerry down...
There's something fascistic about Trinity High. It reminds me of Nazi Germany or the Taliban.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Chocolate War,
This teenage story takes place in a boys-only, private Catholic school called Trinity. The conflict encountered is one that any student in any school around the world could recognize. The Chocolate War, written by Robert Cormier, who has also published such novels as I Am the Cheese and After the First Death, is an excellent book for young adults. The book is written with a style and a vocabulary that would even be understood by a junior high student.
Jerry Renault is an active football player whose mother is dead and whose father is hardworking. Most of the story revolves around Jerry, but also looks at some of his friends like Goober, the receiver for the football team. The Vigils are run by the boxing club president and star football player named Carter. Primarily working for him is the student who makes the assignments, Archie Costello, who comes up with ideas to assign people. When assigned a job, a person must do it, or else they will be tormented by the Vigils.
Trinity is planning to conduct the annual chocolate sale led by Brother Leon. He has placed a large amount of faith in the boys to sell far more this year than they ever have before. He leaves out the fact that he spent more funds than allowed to do so, because the chocolates he bought were on sale. To spook Brother Leon, Archie comes up with what he thinks to be the most brilliant plan yet: to have the years previous top seller not sell any chocolates at all for the first week. That will cause a scare in Brother Leon, and show once again that the Vigils can do whatever they want. Unfortunately for Jerry, he was last year's previous top seller. He learns of his assignment, but will he accept it?
The story in general is to show the lives of ordinary private school boys put to the test. Every day, kids around the world are bullied by those bigger and older, and they constantly have to make the decision if they will continue to take the abuse, or if they will stand up to the group. The Chocolate War shows not only the Vigils encounter with the Jerry, but also with several others including Jerry's friend Goober and a brief encounter with a hot shot named Rollo. Jerry's decisions weave him down a winding road, which leads nowhere but to trouble. At one point, Jerry is jumped by a gang of guys led by Janza, a Vigil "associate" known for his love of fighting. Midnight prank phone calls and fear of being beat up stalk Jerry throughout the whole story. He finally gets his chance to fight back at Janza. Who will triumph, the gang of troublemakers called the Vigils, or Jerry?
There is plenty of material in this book that could be seen as "inappropriate" material to some extent. While understandable, I think much of this is presented in real life by the time a person has reached high school. Also, because not many books touch on this topic, I think it is important for more people to read this, rather than be sheltered from them. It shows a good lesson in life that is not often seen.
Throughout the book, the reader struggles along with Jerry in whether or not he should do as the Vigils say. The decision could affect the rest of his Trinity life, but that's just it. If he decides wrong, it will only affect him for those few years of high school. Those few years could seem long if the Vigils torment him throughout. While most readers probably can't relate to this exact situation, they have most likely encountered something similar. Thus, the relationship makes making it more thrilling to follow Jerry in his struggles with himself and the world around him.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite novel after 25 years!,
I first read The Chocolate War as a 20-year-old in college, and it's still my favorite novel of all time. High school freshman Jerry Renault, who recently lost his mom to cancer, is challenged by the poster decorating his locker--"Do I dare disturb the universe?" (from T.S. Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"). Brother Leon, acting headmaster of Jerry's school, Trinity High in Monument, MA, orders an unusually high number of chocolates for the school's annual sale. To insure success, Leon drafts Archie Costello, leader of the school's secret society, the Vigils, into backing his sale. Archie has plans of his own, using freshman Jerry to upset Leon's world. But when Jerry continues to refuse to join the sale, his "no" threatens the power of Leon, Archie, and the Vigils.
This story could be seen as an allegory about the collusion of evil forces and the risk of trying to be good or independent in an evil system that depends upon conformity to survive. Archie is the Devil, Leon a Faustian or Pharisaical hypocrite, and Jerry a reluctant revolutionary, almost a Christ figure. You can also enjoy this novel as a well-plotted, tense, action-packed story. The Chocolate War has also been seen as an indictment of 20th-century American masculinity: cruel, merciless, ashamed of tenderness and goodness, more concerned with pushing others around than with protecting them.
Jerry finds that the cost of being an individual can be astronomical--that most people find it safer to lead a bland, banal life than to "disturb the universe".
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It was the closest book to reality that I have ever read!,
By A Customer
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier involves a young boy by the name of Jerry Renault. Jerry is a quarterback at The Trinity. Trinity is a Catholic school where each year they have a chocolate sale to raise money for the benefit of keeping the school funded. This year The headmaster Brother Leon has decided to sell 20,000 boxes of chocolates. Because of the high quantity he asks the Vigils , a secret society of students from Trinity, for their help in the sale. The assigner of the Vigils Archie Costello gives Jerry Renault a assignment which tells him to refuse to sell the chocolates for ten days and then start to sell them. The only problem is after the ten days are up he continues to not sell them by his own will. Throughout the book Jerry has to deal with the anger and hostility he has caused by taking a stand. It seems that in the book Jerry is more then just a freshman, he is a hero who won't give up for his cause. The book explains lessons in life and shows how sometimes things don't always go the way they are planned. I would definately recommend this book to any teenager. Cormier's excellent way of perception and description shows the reader how talented he is. I have not read any of his other books but I would not doubt they have this same kind of inquisitve writing style as the one portrayed here.
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The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (Paperback - September 14, 2004)