The Chocolate War
Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War. New York: Knopf, 2004.
This book officially reached the “almost thrown across the room” status. Now, the only reason it didn’t get chucked was due to the fact that I categorically refuse to throw books, after all that breaks them and I don’t break books. There are so many books in the YA category nowadays that deal with the same subject matter and yes, sometimes they don’t end “happily ever after,” but this book ended with a “don’t fight the system, don’t try to change anything because no matter what you do you will fail.” What a horrible message for teenagers. Yes, things may not work out, and sometimes no matter what you do there is no happily ever after, but the one thing everyone should be encouraged to maintain is hope simply because without hope what would our world be like? I don’t even want to know! Also, I found it interesting that the latest criticism of YA adults is that they are too much of certain graphic topics. This book, written in 1974 and every other page has some boy masturbating or smoking. Now these topics are not ones that personally bother me, but it really didn’t seem to add anything to the story other than to show how boys will be boys.
The characters in this book range from sympathetic to vague and extremely disturbed. Jerry is very sympathetic. Cormier allows insight into who Jerry is through revelations of his parents and through Jerry’s thoughts. Out of all the characters, Jerry is the most developed. Jerry would definitely be the protagonist of the story, but he represents more than just himself. Jerry is the representation of righteous antiestablishment, anticorruption. One would expect such a person in a YA book to “win” in the end, but he does not. This is probably more a reflection of the times in which the book was written than anything else. Now, Archie is the antagonist. He is a complete sociopath!! However, Cormier, while allowing Archie half of the tale and some of his thoughts to come through, neglects to really develop the character. One has no idea why this kid is the way he is, and one is left hollow at the kid’s victory. The plot is fast moving, the book is not very long, only 253 pages. The point of view shifts throughout the story, making this book a more difficult read for reluctant readers, this is why it was placed in upper high school. Actually, due to the treatment of certain subjects, I would doubt most English teachers nowadays would include this book in their lesson plans. While well written as a whole, the book was disheartening, and would be open to censorship demands.