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.
on May 5, 2000
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.
on January 12, 2000
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
on March 6, 2001
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.
on March 4, 2000
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.
on July 24, 2002
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.
on March 20, 2000
I truly enjoyed reading this book in my English I class. Although some schools may call it controversial, I think it helps people to understand school life in some situations and the outcomes.The characters are very indepth and I get a vivid image of each of them. I would recommend this book to ANYONE who wants to read a good book and although you may be dissatisfied by the ending, you must remember thats the way Robert Cormier wanted it to be.
on August 13, 2007
Robert Cormier introduced this book in later editions by saying that he didn't write it as a young adult novel--he just wrote it, and that's how it got picked up. A lot of parents, teachers, and defenders of organized religion HATED this book because of its supposed corrosive influence on young people. Well, I'm a teacher and a supporter of organized religion, and though I don't necessarily think this book's audience is limited to young adults, I do think it is an absolutely incredible (if cynical) work of literature. I came to this book as an adult, and I was blown away.
Jerry Renault is a normal Catholic school kid, struggling to get over the death of his mother, make the football team, and survive the normal, terrible pangs of adolsence. He's accosted by the Vigils, a secret society of students inside Trinity School that serves only to torment and upset the balance of the school universe. They assign jobs to younger students, tasks that require them to do things that are immoral, uncomfortable, and counter-authority. In Jerry's case, this means a simple (?) refusal to participate in the annual school fundraiser: selling chocolates.
The only problem is, EVERYONE sells the chocolates, and this year, the overly ambitious Brother Leon has staked his job and the school's finances on this sale. What follows is a colossal battle of wills that is waged on three fronts: Jerry, the school, and the Vigils. The eventual outcome is brutal, heartrending, and fundamentally counter to any established expectation one may have while reading from the young adult market. Even the movie--which got an R-rating--didn't have the stomach to represent the ending in all of its unapologetic nastiness.
Some may forget that William Shakespeare built a career on this kind of total story collapse. It's called tragedy. And in THE CHOCOLATE WAR, the genre is rendered beautifully for a modern audience.
(This review has been posted by Marcus Damanda, author of the vampire book "Teeth: A Horror Fantasy.")
on October 6, 2011
... that this book is a brilliant achievement rarely matched in YA fiction. This is the tale of a social snowball effect where the stakes keep getting higher for everybody involved, including the adults.
Many readers are complaining about the book's downward arc and lack of morality. The point is implicit here - you have to read between the lines to understand Cormier's uncompromising rendering of cold truths. The point is not "don't buck the system." The point is, "bad things happen and can snowball out of control when good people give in to conformity & don't stand up for what's right."
Do you doubt it? See: Nazi Germany.
What's brilliant about Cormier's narrative is that anywhere along the way, the snowball could be stopped by someone stepping in and risking some social disapproval - and a few times it comes close. But as fallible human beings, we understand why they don't stick their necks out. THE CHOCOLATE WAR has the courage to show how strongly mob rule relies on the fear of vulnerable individuals. It's hard not to read this and think - what would I do?
Another common complaint is that Jerry's motivation for resistance is undefined. It's not, really - it's that at his young age, he has trouble articulating it. Jerry Renault's rebellion is the rebellion of any individual against an uncompromising conformist system. Communist dictatorships come to mind. Jerry Renault stands up for the right to BE an individual.
The book has great descriptions of physical sensations, and doesn't flinch from ugly truths about manipulation, cowardice, and social dominance, and contains some pungent dialogue. Cormier's also got a pitch-perfect ear for character names.
on February 20, 2002
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.