The Chocolate War

The Chocolate War by: Robert Cormier

Challenges: My Year of Reading Dangerously

Published: 1974

# of pages: 263

My Children's Lit professor once discussed this book in the course I took a couple of years ago. So I knew the basic outline, but I was still surprised while reading the book. I have wanted to read it all of these years, but I find myself feeling really let down. I think this book is a little bit too realistic. Or is it?

Jerry Renault doesn't want to sell chocolates for the school fund raiser. You wouldn't think that would be such a big deal, but it turns the whole school upside down. I admired Jerry for sticking up for himself and wanting to be different than everyone else. He has a poster in his locker that says "Do I dare disturb the universe?" from T.S. Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." And Jerry does dare to disturb the universe and I think everyone who reads this has to admire that.

**Possible Spoiler**

I was disappointed because this doesn't have a typical happy ending. Normally I also admire books that don't follow the rules, but after reading through all of the evil people and things going on in Jerry's school, I was tired of it and wanted something good to happen. I almost felt like it was unrealistic how evil the school was. Like Goober says, "There's something rotten in that school. More than rotten . . . Evil (159)."

I still find it hard to believe that there could be a whole school filled with boys who acted like that. Even then ones who weren't mean were still disgusting. I guess teenage boys have sexual thoughts and feelings that they have to express somehow, but seeing it written out made it seem really crude. I read a webpage about school systems who have challenged this book for various reasons. Most of them included sexual content, torture, bad language, and denigration of women.

I found the fact that there are no women in this book except a few seen from the viewpoint of the boys interesting. That viewpoint is demeaning, but I suppose it is also accurate. I think that if there had been some girls in the book they would have helped uplift it. I guess I was just left with the feeling that all boys are pigs. Violent and disgusting and only seeing girls as sexual objects.

And how could that many parents allow their boys to turn out so badly right under their noses? The parents aren't disciplining the children, the teachers aren't disciplining the children. It's like Lord of the Flies in a private school! They run everything themselves and things get out of control. However, it would be interesting if this book was set in an all girls school. Girls can be just as mean as boys, just in a less physical way. I think the book would have been a little less crude and would have had a less violent ending, but it still could have changed into a "Mean Girls" type of situation.

It is a unique view of anarchy and what happens when an attempt to manipulate a volatile situation is made. And it does leave the reader asking, should you dare disturb the universe? Can you form your own belief and stick up for it? Jerry thought he failed when he becomes just like the other boys, "not disturbing the universe, but damaging it (254)." I think he could have continued to stay separate from the other boys and not join in their violent ways, but he would have remained an outcast. Maybe sometimes you have to join in to survive.

Thankfully, I've never been faced with such an extreme situation. I've always been able to walk away and resist joining in things that I knew would hurt me or other people if I wanted to. But this book does make you wonder what you would do in this situation. And if it was even right of Jerry to refuse to sell the chocolates...or if it was admirable. All in all, a depressing but thought provoking book. I recommend this to readers who enjoy realistic stories, stories that involve pyschological dilemmas and touchy situations, and those who want to know what the big deal about this book is. If you are considering letting your child read it, know that it does contain sexual content, violence, and bad language.


Nymeth said...

I keep hearing about this book. It's too bad it let you down. I skipped the spoilers, though, because I'd like to get to it someday.

Nyssaneala said...

I have failed miserably on the My Year of Reading Dangerously challenge. It's too bad you didn't enjoy this one more...I have to admit it's not very high on my tbr list.

btw, your wedding anniversary is very close to my hubby and I were married Oct 16, 2006!

Andrea said...

Nyssaneala, I'm not even doing the book for August because I'm falling behind on all of my challenges.

October is a great month for a wedding! It was a little cold on our wedding day, but not too bad. It's usually great weather in NC in Oct. Autumn is my favorite season, too. It's hard to believe it's been 2 years. I like your icon, are you trying to conceive or expecting?

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Wife, mother, bookworm.
This is a place where you can read book reviews, discover links, and learn about the reading challenges in which I'm taking part.


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