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

The Chocolate War: Read A Long Part 1

Remember how I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d read The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier?

chocolatewar The Chocolate War: Read A Long Part 1I can safely say that I did not read it!

So, what we have here is my reader response reaction as I read ; it’s consolidated from thirty-odd pages of notes. I’m dividing it out over four days; then, on Friday, I’ll have my actual review.

This will be chapter by chapter; and yes, there will be spoilers. I’m also not going to be explaining who is who or what is happening –

So, ready?

Chapter One.

They murdered him.” Well, that’s one way to start a book! Literally or figuratively? Also, foreshadowing much?

“Him” turns out to be Jerry, a freshman trying out for the football team. At first, I thought there were going to be mean Dad issues or mean Coach issues. Nah, not so much.

It was important to portray no distress.” Turns out, Jerry is a freshman trying out for the football team. But more foreshadowing!

So there is sports and ignoring physical pain, and as I read this I think, hey, I wonder if there are any women in this book?

Poor Jerry: “He had never felt so lonely in his life, abandoned, defenseless.” Dude, you have no idea what is coming.

Jerry makes the team. Oh, and he has a dead mother. This does not bode well for female representation.

Chapter Two.

“Obie was bored.” As this is Cormier: boredom will not lead to anything good. “Most of all, he was tired of Archie. Archie the bastard. The bastard that Archie alternately hated and admired.”

We also find out that Archie is the rebel, the smart one, the fill in the blank that he’s not like the others because “I’m just chewing a wafer they buy by the pound in Worcester.” So not only is he not buying it; he’s also letting us know that since he has no belief, he has no guilt. This is going to matter.

Oh, “some PR cats.” It’s 1974; the slang is a wee bit different. Ha, Obie is eye rolling at Archie: “one of his phony hip words.” But not too much eye rolling: “Obie . . . hat[ed] the thing in him that made him look at Archie in admiration.”

Obie and Archie have a bit of a love-hate thing going on; and each have a certain level of self-awareness.

“…the way [Archie] could be a wise bastard one minute and a great guy the next.”

Only a certain level of awareness: Archie is quite the manipulator. He is not a great guy; he’s playing you.

We find out about the school secret club, The Vigils, and that “Archie disliked violence — most of his assignments were exercises in the psychological rather than the physical. That’s why he got away with so much. The Trinity brothers wanted peace at any price, quiet on the campus, no broken bones. Otherwise, the sky was the limit.” More foreshadowing! And Cormier is telling us right up front: Archie likes to play with people.

Chapter Three

The girl was heart-wrenchingly impossibly beautiful.” And just as I’m eye-rolling it turns out it’s a girl in a magazine. “A longing filled him. Would a girl ever love him?” Oh, Jerry.

There are moments where the sadness and loneliness of teenagers — it just overwhelms.

Except, “the one devastating sorrow he carried within him was the fear that he would die before holding a girl’s breast in his hand.” OK, it’s not that I don’t find this both realistic and humorous and still, the longing, but here’s the thing. Jerry doesn’t want to love; he wants to be loved so he can get something. And this was the point where, even though I knew this was a book about an all-boys school, that it hit me: this book was not going to pass the Bechdel Test.

Oh, and there are some hippies.

Chapter Four

The chocolates show up, with Brother Leon and his goal to sell twice the number of boxes the year before at double the price.

Archie on adults: “they were vulnerable, running scared, open to invasion.”

School has no wealthy alumni, the boys aren’t from rich families, need money. Got it.

More on The Vigils: “The Vigils kept things under control.” “Archie believed in always doing the smart thing. Not the thing you ached to do, not the impulsive act, but the thing that would pay off later.”

I may be feeling a bit sorry for Jerry, but Archie is the one who is interesting.

Chapter Five

Archie seems to know himself; that he likes to toy with others. He just doesn’t care.

So The Vigils big thing is that they give other students “assignments” which are “stunts” – basically pranks that have a bit of cruelty to them. Got it. Why do the students go along with this? I mean, one of The Vigils is the muscle to threaten people into compliance, but really — why do the boys go along? When did it start? Was it always this cruel? Who did this before Archie?

Chapter Six

Brother Leon is cruel, and there is a good deal of contempt and emotional abuse.

Chapter Seven

Who is going to be nasty and cruel now?

And can you imagine these people with access to the Internet? Troll central.

And now we meet Emile Janza. “He found the world was full of willing victims.” And since “most kids wanted peace at any price” he could get what he wanted. So, another bully. And Archie is blackmailing Emile with some sort of photo.

Chapter Eight

Goober, a friend of Archie, talking about running: “everything seemed beautiful, everything in its proper orbit, nothing impossible, the entire world attainable.”

That is beautiful. Too bad it’s not that type of book.

And more confirmation of the cruelty of the pranks.

Chapter Nine

Jerry and his parents– dead mom, working dad. And his dad, “that familiar smell that was his father,” which includes “cigarette tobacco.” Wow, in that I can remember how often reading this is books — the smell of a parent including cigarettes and that wasn’t a bad thing, not a problem, it just was.

OK, this is funny to me — so, Jerry and his dad are living in an apartment, having sold the house after his mother died. And remember, the families at the school aren’t rich. They have a housekeeper! All you need to know about how I grew up or live now — no housekeepers. Not even a cleaning lady. That’s a sign of having money.

Jerry: “was life that dull, that boring and humdrum for people? He hated to think of his own life stretching ahead of him that way, a long succession of days and nights that were fine, fine — not good, not bad, not great, not lousy, not exciting, not anything.” Thinking of “his [father's] life, so pale and gray, Jerry was plunged into sadness.”

So true: that teen view of adults and the future. There is some terrific description here, even if it’s of the “glass half full” or actually “glass is broken” world view.

Chapter Ten

There was nothing more beautiful in the world than the sight of a teacher getting upset.”

Ha! Another great observation. And Archie; at this point, I just can’t hate him. Not sure why.

 

 

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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. kelly says:

    I felt the same way you did about Archie through this point. He was the most compelling and interesting to me — I wanted to know what he was going to do, how he’d react. We were given glimpses, but not enough of Jerry, to really figure out the way they’d connect with one another.

    I also had a bit of a side eye to the comment about the house keeper but the Renault family being poor.

  2. Beth says:

    I’m really enjoying these chapter by chapters. My post on The Chocolate War is scheduled for Thursday, and I talk a bit about the housekeeper thing too.

  3. Elizabeth Burns says:

    Kelly & Beth, I think two things are going on. One, for that time period, “of course” Archie’s father couldn’t be expected to do such things as clean and cook. Two, for some people this help is “need” not “want,’ which is a whole other too complex discussion.

    Beth, looking forward to your post!

  4. Ms. Yingling says:

    Ah, but in 1974 a man who had been married about 1954 couldn’t possibly be expected to take care of his own house AND a child. Of course there was a housekeeper! Glad you are all finding the book interesting? I read Cormier in middle school in the late ’70s and was not a fan at the time. Maybe a reread is in order.

  5. Eliza says:

    “And can you imagine these people with access to the Internet? Troll central.”

    Best. Line. Ever.

  6. Elizabeth Burns says:

    Ms. Yingling, this was an interesting exercise in comparing my initial reactions to what I put together for my review. For my review? This wasn’t significant to mention. I am reminded, though, of the tv show FAMILY where the lawyer father & stay at home mother have a housekeeper yet cannot financially help her ill mother with nursing care; instead they send their HS drop out son to spend the summer with her. It’s just a different way of looking at what is a “need” I guess. And please reread! I am surprised at myself by how much I ended up liking this book.

    Eliza, thanks! I am proud of that one, to be honest.

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