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:

I Am the Cheese, by Robert Cormier

Nine stars

After recently discovering the work of Robert Cormier, I decided to come back for more. This is another wonderfully-crafted novel in which Cormier shows his versatility and ability to entertain readers of all ages. Adam Farmer is on a mission to see his father, a trip 70 miles across three states. He is ready to make the trek entirely by bicycle, leering of hitchhiking along highways he does not know. As he ventures out, Adam thinks back to some of his fondest memories as a child, as well as the strong friendship he’s made with Amy Hertz. Interspersed with this is a narrative set in a collection of therapeutic sessions, with Adam as the patient. These conversations begin to peel back the proverbial onion in Adam’s life, as the reader learns a little about the lives of the elder Farmers. A third-person narrative offers up a final perspective, filling in many of the gaps and telling an interesting narrative that ties into events to which the other two storylines refer. As Adam’s bicycle trip proceeds, he begins to realise that much of what he thought was true might be a construct of his own making. Why this journey to see his father and how do these therapeutic interviews come together? The curious reader will discover all this, as well as the truth behind Adam Farmer. Recommended to those who love a slow-revealing mystery as well as the reader who enjoys a ‘coming of age’ tale!

It would seem that Robert Cormier enjoys using food in the titles of his books, at least the few I have read. Cormier weaves quite the story and keeps the reader intrigued throughout, using the multiple narratives to his advantage as they culminate in an explosive finale. Adam Farmer shares much about himself in this story, serving as quite the protagonist. His cycling journey shows the reader the determination to finish what he starts, even in the face of adversity. Adam surely has some buried struggles, as is seen in the therapeutic interviews, where his grasp of reality seems to ebb and flow, revealing much to the attentive reader. The personal struggles in which Adam finds himself help to reveal a vulnerable and confused boy, whose past is a mix of truths and suppositions. Other characters prove helpful to shape the larger narrative, complementing Adam Farmer effectively. These supporting characters prove essential in Cormier’s tangled web, which is spun in a subtle manner throughout. With a great narrative that clips along, the reader is treated to a wonderful collection of plots with a powerful final revelation. Cormier uses his wonderful writing abilities to keep the reader wanting more, particularly after the twist in the closing paragraphs. I am just sorry that I did not become interested in Cormier sooner, so as to discuss his work with my father, whose English classes were filled with such young adult classics!

Kudos, Mr. Cormier, for another wonderful piece that has me turning to read more of your work.

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

The Chocolate War (Chocolate War #1), by Robert Cormier

Eight stars

Always looking for new and exciting ways to approach my reading challenges, I turned to Robert Cormier’s book all about the battle to conform to a larger power or stand up and buck the trend. Jerry Renault enjoys his time at Trinity Boys’ School, particularly when on the football field. He is still learning the ins and outs of the academy, where there is a definite hierarchy amongst the boys, depending on their age. When it is time for the annual fundraising drive, chocolate bars are again the primary means of earning capital. An exuberant acting headmaster decides to double the requirement for each boy and ups the price as well. When each boy is to pledge a minimum number of boxes, Renault refuses in front of the entire group. Not deterred, others agree to sell and the fundraising begins. However, as sales trickle in and many boys announce their progress, Renault is happy to turn his back on selling anything for Trinity. This begins a trickle-down effect and soon other boys are protesting the need to churn out sales for an institution that already takes in a large tuition. Jerry Renault will prove that conformity is not a class in which he chooses to enrol himself, even if it costs him a spot at Trinity. It may cost him more, if the core ‘gang’ within the school chooses to act. A wonderful novel about the epiphany surrounding individuality of a boy who learns what it is like to be a man in the face of adversity. Cormier does well with what he calls his first young adult novel. Recommended to those who need a shorter piece to fill a bit of their time, as well as though who enjoy YA books with a moral and a little meat to the narrative.

I believe the first time this novel was brought to my attention was when my father was prepping for his junior high English classes one summer. He wanted to teach something to his students that packed a punch and offered a message. When I saw the word ‘chocolate’, I could only think that this was a book that would pit Willy Wonka against someone else trying to rule the cocoa empire. Years later, when I found myself in the middle of this book, things all seem to come together. Jerry Renault is the kid who can be taken two ways. Someone who chooses to defy what is asked of them simply to get a rise out of others. This is the person who simply wants to be known for yelling ‘no’ for notoriety. On the flip side, someone who takes a stand for a fundamental belief and does not let peer or outside pressure dictate being a follower. Renault is like any other boy at Trinity, save that he has decided to do what he feels is right, no matter what others tell him. The reader will see this throughout, particularly when threatened from all sides to conform. Other characters in the book help to push for the narrative forward, while also shedding light onto what it means to grow up under the thumb of Trinity school. Athletics, academics, and social pressures come from all sides, as well as the banter to meet girls and not ogle them too much. Cormier does a masterful job at creating characters to whom the young adult reader can relate, while still providing some key messages throughout. The story remained strong, with a number of themes that are easily discernible without being too blunt. Cormier mentioned that he based the piece on his own son and a choice not to sell for a fundraiser, choosing to put onto paper many of the concerns that came to mind. I feel this was done effectively and helped to shape the argument through the eyes of a teenager. Wth short chapters and poignant plot advancements throughout, Robert Cormier sets the stage for a few novels in this series that I will have to revisit, when time permits.

Kudos, Mr. Cormier, for a great piece that left me hungering for more, both reading and sweets!

This book fulfils Topic #4_: Delectable Reading in the Equinox #9 Reading Challenge.

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