Beyond the Chocolate War (Chocolate War #2), by Robert Cormier

Nine stars

As the dust settles on a productive chocolate fundraiser at Trinity Boys’ School in Monument, Massachusetts, there is much still to be decided. The curious reader who enjoyed Robert Cormier’s first novel geared towards a teenage audience will surely want to take some time to read this sequel, set mere months after the fiasco of the ‘chocolate war’. As the students at Trinity remember the events of the fall fundraiser, Jerry Renault continues to suffer the after-effects of defying the school and its unspoken student gang, The Vigils. With Renault recuperating in Canada, Vigils leader, Archie Costello, has his sights set on more events to stir up some interest. His handful of new recruits seem eager to help however they can, eager to make their mark and impress those in positions of authority. While certain members of the Vigils remain committed to the cause, some have turned their attention to some personal interests, including girls. When a planned event to stick it to the school administration goes sideways, Archie is ready to dish out some needed revenge, but not before he discovers that some Vigils are taking things into their own hands and organizing raids to embarrass certain weaker links. With Archie poised to graduate, he will be handing the reins over to someone else, but must make the end of the school year highly memorable. With the re-emergence of Jerry Renault in town, he makes the bold decision that he will return to Trinity and face the aggressors who pushed him out. However, as with many of the other boys, he learns that Trinity and The Vigils serve only as impediments to his discovering his own self. As the novel reaches its crescendo, Cormier adds a few twists that are sure to sober up his cast of characters and entertain the reader immensely. A masterful return for Cormier, who let the sequel percolate a decade before he put it to paper. Recommended to those who enjoyed The Chocolate War, as well as the reader who enjoys pieces that resonate for long after the story ends.

For some reason, I have become quite the fan of Robert Cormier over the last week, having devour three of his novels in short order. While this and the original in the series have some strong ties to one another, all three books can stand on their own as wonderful pieces of writing that young adult (teen) readers could enjoy, as well as those who simply remember those younger years. It is hard to find a protagonist in this piece, as many of the boys have their own storylines that mesh together to form strong themes. Surely, Archie Costello, whose power during the chocolate sales returns yet again, has a strong role as he uses his convincing nature to ensure he gets his own way. Even the likes of Jerry Renault, whose ostracism for standing up for himself cost him many an injury (physical and psychological) plays a decent role in this piece. The overall teenage boy persona that pervades this piece is offset against the role of the school administration—particularly Headmaster Brother Leon—to show the clash between controller and supplicant. The story was powerful and effective, pulling on loose reference to the chocolate fundraiser to act as a springboard to new and exciting new themes here. Cormier explores the role that overriding authority has over boys at that most influential age, where they seek to fit in while also defining themselves. The reader will pick up on many of these themes throughout and come to their own conclusions. With a powerful ending (as I have come to see occurs in all of Cormier’s novels I read), the reader will remain hooked until the final page-turn.

Kudos, Mr. Cormier, for keeping me focussed until the end. While the intended audience might be middle- or high-school students, your writing makes it a pleasure to read for anyone with some time.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: