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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

The Chocolate War Week Begins

ChocWarRA1 500x392 The Chocolate War Week BeginsAnd The Chocolate War: A Read & Blog Along begins!

As explained in this earlier post, I have never read The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier.

Inspired by this confession, Kelly Jensen of Stacked and Leila Roy of Bookshelves of Doom decided why not share the joy of reading, or rereading, The Chocolate War?

And thus The Chocolate War: A Read & Blog Along was born! This is the week that Kelly, Leila and I are blogging about The Chocolate War, each in our own unique way.

My way: for four days, starting Monday, I will be sharing my chapter by chapter reader response reaction to reading The Chocolate War for the very first time.

Then, on Friday, I will be posting my review of The Chocolate War.

Please, join us! Leave a link to this post, and I’ll be adding it to this post each night.

Talking about The Chocolate War on Twitter? We have a hashtag, #ChocWarRA. Please feel free to use the image, created by Kelly.

Other ChocWarRA posts:

Leslie Stella on The Chocolate War (added 5/14): “The brutal ending outraged many readers (particularly parents and school administrators), but this book is a tragedy. Shakespeare wrote a few, ya know? Yes, it’s grim stuff, but it presents an eerily accurate portrayal of human cruelty and conformity within the confines of school. I think of the popularity of paranormal YA books, where an alternate reality is presented as deadly and frightening, but to me, nothing is more frightening than the regular world.” Stella’s Permanent Record, which references The Chocolate War, is one of the reasons I decided to finally read The Chocolate War.

Kelly at Stacked on First Impressions (added 5/14): “Not as controversial as I hoped, though I was disgusted by the characters discussing how they raped attractive girls with their eyes. That’s all I had to say about Cormier’s book on my first read. I suspect my second read might merit a few more words, and I’m dying to know whether either of these statements still hold true. What did I want in terms of controversy in 2008? Will I see gender issues still? I’m actually pretty surprised to see that pop up in my review because when I thought about my reading of the book back then, gender wasn’t something I remembered at all. But it was apparently noteworthy!”

Kelly at Stacked on A Cover Retrospective, English Editions (added 5/14): “What’s interesting is how there’s really not too much about the cover: it’s dark, and there’s the ominous shadow of the boy on the cover. I do love how huge and almost foreboding the shadow looks, too. The boy himself appears young, too. But otherwise, this cover doesn’t tell the reader a whole lot about the book. It fits with what was in vogue in YA covers for the 70s (of what I’ve seen anyway) and it looks like the kind of book that could have a wide appeal to it.

Lauren at The Raucaus Librarian (added 5/14) (technically written before #ChocWarRA, but Lauren left a note about this at Kelly’s blog so of course we are including it!): “I also really admire the skillful way Cormier manages the shifting perspectives of the story.  The most conventional (and probably the easiest) method of presenting this novel would have been to choose one character and have the reader see everything through the lens of that character, either through the use of first person or third person limited omniscient narration.  Instead, Cormier uses a continuously shifting point of view that lets us see into the minds of not only the protagonist Jerry but also the other boys at Trinity—Archie, the Goober, Obie, Caroni, and Emile Janza.  While we may not understand someone like Archie, telling the story from his perspective, even if only in snippets, allows us access to his thought process and the rationale behind his actions.

Bookshelves of Doom, Chapters 1 – 5 (added 5/14) “It blew my mind when I read it as a teenager, it blew my mind when I read it in my 20s, and I fully expect it to blow my mind again now. It’s a brutal story—emotionally, philosophically, physically—and Cormier doesn’t pull any punches or offer any platitudes. Life isn’t fair, bad things happen to those who don’t deserve it, justice isn’t always served, and people can be broken. And yet. And yet, despite where the story leaves him, there’s something inspiring in Jerry Renault’s attempt to matter, to find meaning, to disturb the universe.

Bookshelves of Doom, Chapters 6 – 11 (added 5/14): “So, that bit where Jerry sees his mother’s face superimposed over his father’s face? I know I SHOULD have found that emotionally moving or something, but really all it made me think of was that time on Twin Peaks where Mrs. Palmer is talking to Stupid Donna Hayward and she has a vision of Laura’s face and then she does what she does best and freaks out.”

Why The Chocolate War Matters by Angie Manfredi, Guest Post at Stacked (added 5/15): “To me, Cormier’s greatest legacy is the clear definition between children’s and young adult literature. There was no mistaking it – this was not a book for children. It was a book for older readers, those ready to tackle big, hard questions and moral grey areas, readers who didn’t demand or need everything all wrapped up with a big bow. Yet even with that, it still wasn’t for adults.  No – this was a book just for teens.  All these years later, it still is.”

Thoughts On The Chocolate War at Beth Reads (added 5/16): “I can see why this book has been challenged to hell and back.  Disrespect for authority, smoking, masturbation references, the implication that adults in general, and religious figures specifically, don’t always have teens’ best interest at heart are all hot button issues. I guarantee they came up more in challenges than the actual violence in the book. Of course, most of these things were a much bigger deal in the 70s and 80s but challenges are still around.”

A Cover Retrospective, Foreign Editions by Kelly at Stacked (added 5/18): “Why is there a girl on it? What boy in The Chocolate War spends any time with a girl? There’s a phone call, but that is the closest to a girl getting page time that there is. Certainly, no boy is walking with a girl like that in the story. So that it’s representative of the book on the cover is bizarre and noteworthy because it doesn’t even happen in the book. But aside from that strange choice in image, I love the illustrated effect. Except, doesn’t it make the book look like it’s almost a happy story? It certainly doesn’t have a darkness or a shadow lingering over it. The design definitely nails the prep school look but this cover doesn’t have anything to do with the book. Dare I say it looks almost like a romance?

The Chocolate War by Kelly at Stacked (added 5/18): “How did I feel about Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War five years after reading it for the first time? Much, much differently. But I say that as a matter of my only real opinion last time was that this book wasn’t as controversial as I’d once suspected and that I didn’t like the way the boys in the book thought about girls. And now, with a few years of reading YA under my belt and a few years of actually working with teens, I think I went in with different expectations. I also got to leave the book with different reactions, too.

Inspired By — And Read Alikes To — The Chocolate War by Kelly at Stacked (added 5/18): “What do you read next? Here’s a short list with some suggestions for further reading. Some of these titles cover aspects of bullying. Some are about portraying the truth in the most honest and painful way possible. Some of them are about social dynamics and social truths. Some of them are all of the above. Part of why I wanted to put together this short list is because a number of books that more recent YA readers have come to know were inspired by Cormier’s classic, whether or not they were aware of it. In many ways, this book opened up a dialog about peer pressure, about conformity, and about the dynamics of relationships in high school in teen fiction and in teen lives.

No Star For You! at Bookshelves of Doom (OK, including this is a massive spoiler but hey, it’s funny, so here it is) (added 5/18): “So, can you guess what book this disappointed reader is reviewing?”

The Chocolate War, Chapters 12 – 17 at Bookshelves of Doom (added 5/18): “I love the structure of this chapter: Cormier shows the passage of time with brief vignettes of random students selling chocolates interspersed with scenes of the daily battle of wills between Brother Leon and Jerry in homeroom. His ability to create three-dimensional, believable characters with just a few paragraphs is lovely, as is his trust in his audience to be able to keep up with the rapid pace of the scene changes.”

The Chocolate War, Chapters 18 – 28 at Bookshelves of Doom (added 5/19): “The prank described in this chapter—every time a certain teacher uses the word ‘environment’, the students all jump up and dance around like crazy for a minute—is brilliant and hilarious. (Though, like many of the others, it creates an undercurrent of fear and apprehension, too.) But it’s also a great example of Archie, once again, playing puppetmaster with EVERYONE: he has no loyalty to anyone but himself, and once he’s bored with the teacher’s discomfort, he turns the tables and makes the students the victims.” (Also, I love how Leila also notices the “Women As Non-Human thread in the book.”)

The Chocolate War, Chapters 29 – 39 at Bookshelves of Doom (added 5/20): “Now I’m all emotionally drained and busted. I need a nap. And maybe some ice cream.

And I realized I omitted my own posts, so how can this be a real round up? Added 5/20

Chapters One to Ten.

Chapters Eleven to Twenty.

Chapters Twenty One to Thirty.

Chapters Thirty One to Thirty Nine.

My Review.

My Wrap Up.

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Donna Miller says:

    Read this book many years ago – I would love to revisit it. This is fun idea. Thanks for opening it up to everyone!

  2. HI…good idea! Strangely enough, I brought a dog-eared copy of The Chocolate War home (actually it’s on the floor of my back seat right now)…I have also never read it. Perhaps I will join you. Will be looking for your review!

    Kalina

  3. Oh wow, I love this book, and would love to be part of the Chocolate conversation this week.

  4. This is one of those books I’ve meant to read ever since it came to my attention in graduate school (err, 2005). Thanks for the motivation to jump in!

  5. Elizabeth Burns says:

    Donna, I hope you’ll be taking part.

    Kalina, please join! It’s fate!

    Adele, yay, glad to have you join us!

    Andi, together we can strike this off the “classic YA books I haven’t read yet” list.

  6. Tiffany says:

    I tried this as a read aloud for the 8th grade class at my school, but had to put it down because of masturbation and profanity. It is a great book, but definitely not a read aloud for the librarian. LOL.

  7. I’m so pleased to take part in this conversation! The Chocolate War has haunted me ever since I read it at age 14. One of the themes in my new contemporary YA novel, Permanent Record, revolves around a teenager who is inspired by The Chocolate War, and like Jerry, refuses to sell his school’s fundraising candy, with similarly brutal results. I’ve jotted down a few thoughts on Robert Cormier’s classic at my website (http://www.lesliestella.com/site/the-chocolate-war-2/). Please take a look!

  8. Elizabeth Burns says:

    Tiffany, EEK. Yes, some books don’t work as readalouds….

    Leslie, added! Thanks! And Permanent Record is one of the things that motivated me to finally read The Chocolate War.

  9. Ed Sullivan says:

    What I’ve always loved about this novel is that Jerry is beaten to a bloody pulp and left an outcast. Cormier could have taken the easy way out and had Jerry win, had Archie and Brother Leon punished for the evil they do but he doesn’t. The ending is bleak and unjust. It’s enraging and that’s exactly how the 8th graders I read this with felt. They were enraged by the injustice of it all, just as they should be, and just as I imagine Cormier hoped readers would respond.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      Yes. This. There are a few “happy” expected endings that Cormier could have given us, and he didn’t. Archie and the marbles! And yes: so right. It’s not about Jerry getting justice. It’s about readers being enraged.

  10. lalibrarylady86 says:

    The Chocolate War was not my favorite Cormier novel; I Am the Cheese is. Definitely disturbing but so well put together.
    Am I correct in remembering that Chocolate War compares to A Separate Peace for a different generation? Guess I have to put it on the re-read list.

    • I’m with you re: I am the Cheese. I can’t even say that I “liked” The Chocolate War; it’s more that I felt compelled to finish it, and then reread it, and then think about all these long years later, which to me is the hallmark of a great book.

      • Elizabeth Burns says:

        i am pretty sure I have also not read I AM THE CHEESE. or, for that matter, A SEPARATE PEACE.

  11. when I first read the book as a ninth grader, I remember having this sort of terrible epiphany that I (like Jerry) could not quit high school. that no matter how awful it might get (and my own freshman year, while not TCW-dreadful, wasn’t great) I couldn’t just give notice, or find a new town, or take a sabbatical. high school is a command performance, you have to show up and deal. day after day. of course I always knew that, but TCW really bold-lettered that for me.

    compulsory school attendance is an interesting piece of the YA genre in general, and I can’t think of a more brutal study of unalterable, unending school-set humiliation than in TCW. It also turns a pretty unflinching eye on the concept of the power of the mostly-student mob vis-a-vis the spectacle of suffering. Which is a lot to read as an adult– and as a high school reader, I recall that these themes really pinched me where it hurt.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      adele, I think the unique high school experience is a critical part of what can make YA, YA: you HAVE to be there, as you point out, and you have to be with a bunch of people who are connected because of geography (even in private schools, the connection is involuntary rather than voluntary, based perhaps on religion on socioeconomics, or even perhaps talent and interests…but its still a group of dissimilar people brought together, for better or worse). And there is a sameness: the same experience of teachers, school, events. No matter how big the school, it’s a small and limited world. this book certainly is about those aspects of school. so much good food for thought!

      • A Separate Peace is part of the triumvirate of prep school books that informed my adolescence (along with The Chocolate War and Catcher in the Rye). They provided my first glimpse into a privileged world every bit as unhappy and cruel as my own. I agree with your comment about the sameness of the high school experience; that even between schools that initially seem so different (for example, a rough inner-city public school and a prep school), there is the unifying experience of alienation and isolation.

  12. I’m so excited to be quoted in your post! I’m loving reading everyone’s posts about The Chocolate War!

  13. Sandra Delgado says:

    I read this book as part of a requirement for my YA Lit MLS class. I didn’t think it would live in my mind for so many days after finishing it. In a way it’s eerie how Archie displays such psychopathic tendencies. He really does seem to be one step ahead at all times. I always root for the underdog and this book was no exception. I kept hoping for Jerry to defeat the system. Alas, that did not happen. I believe that’s the reason this is such a strong and compelling novel.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      that this doesn’t give the reader what is wanted or expected makes this quite memorable!

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