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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 2

My readalong of The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier continues.

Chapters One to Ten.

Chapter ElevenChocWarRA1 500x392 The Chocolate War: Read A Long Part 2

I have to say, the screw stunt is pretty funny. Even though part of me is saying, someone could have gotten hurt. And part of me is saying it was just a little too much, too extreme. And while it may be funny, it’s not, because the set up to get there was cruel and even here, it’s about being mean to the teacher, not about being funny.

The destruction of Room Nineteen took exactly thirty-seven seconds. Archie timed it from the doorway. A sweetness gathered in his breast as the saw the room being turned into a shambles, a sweet moment of triumph that compensated for all other lousy things, his terrible marks, the black box.

Archie is just fascinating — his joy in destruction, that it’s a triumph, that he uses his talents for The Vigil assignments instead of anything else.

Oh, teacher gripped his shoulder painfully and pushed a student against the wall! Another reminder that it’s not 2013.

Chapter Twelve

A triumphant football practice for Jerry. Too bad this won’t last.

Chapter Thirteen

Wait, the teacher had a nervous breakdown because of the Room Nineteen stunt? That seems a bit much.

The room would never be the same again, of course.” Metaphor alert!

And, finally — Jerry says “no” to selling chocolates for the “strictly voluntary” sale.

Chapter Fourteen

Female alert! Someone has an Aunt Agnes!

And a name. Dead mom, magazine girl, hippy chick — no names.

No, I’m wrong, the housekeeper had a name. Mrs. Hunter, in Chapter Nine.

And now, Tubs Casper. What a name! Tubs has a mother and a half drunk father, but for purposes of this, he also has a real, live girlfriend.

Spoiler: this is Tubs main appearance. He’s not a major player. And the real live girlfriend? Never shows up; it’s just Tubs thinking about her.

And sadly — she’s a gold digger. No, really. “Money, money, money had become the constant need of his life, money and his love for Rita.” Girl wants to go to movies! ($2.50 each). And then have a coke after! (50 cents each). He buys her earrings, and she brushes against him. He wants to get her a bracelet (she’s pointed it out to him, $18.95) and who knows what will happen then? Did I mention Tubs’ mother doesn’t like Rita, because she “looks to old.”

Rita is fourteen.

Rita is “beautiful in a ripe, wild way . . .  Those beautiful breasts bouncing under her jersey.”

And, sigh, Tubs is using the candy sale money to fund his romance with the gold digger.

Note: the first teenage girl is Rita. Chapter Fourteen. And she has none of the complexity we’ve seen in any of the boys, even those who show up for just a few paragraphs. She doesn’t even have a voice or point of view. She’s just a girl who is trying to get jewelry from a boy.

Spoiler: this is as good as it gets for female representation. Women are mostly absent from the world of The Chocolate War.

Oh, and another teen feeling “sorry for older people” and “his own parents and their useless lives.”

Chapter Fifteen

And I guess this is why the book gets challenged: Archie is blackmailing Emile with a photo that doesn’t exist of Emile masturbating in a bathroom at school.

Archie again: “The world was made up of two kinds of people — those who were victims and those who were victimized.”

Just a bleak view of everything.

Chapter Sixteen

So, Brother Leon is totally lying to David to get David to do something. Leon’s a nasty piece of work. With role models like Leon, no wonder Archie and Emile and the others have such horrid views of the world.

And I have to say, I don’t get Leon’s obsession with this chocolate sale.

“Were teachers like everyone else, then? Were teachers as corrupt as the villains you read about in books or saw in movies and television?” It’s almost sweet to think that someone would be a teen in high school and only just realizing this. Not that teachers are corrupt, no; but that adults are flawed. (But to be honest – the world of The Chocolate War is full of some deeply broken people who enjoy hurting others. There is no room for flaws that make a person real rather than perfect. Not that there is anything wrong with that — more about it in my review — but this is a place of extremes. No in between.)

So people are being manipulative all over the place. And we’re told that Jerry saying “no” to the chocolates is an assignment from The Vigils. (Note: we don’t see any of Jerry’s point of view during this assignment. One thing I find extremely fascinating with this story is who tells the story when, what they tell, and who doesn’t say anything.0

Having not read this, and only known some generalities, part of me is a bit shocked to learn that Jerry’s refusal is the result of manipulation.

And he did see — that life was rotten, that there were no heroes, really, and that you couldn’t trust anyone, not even yourself.

Got it; lesson learned. It’s going to take Jerry a bit longer, I think. Also, while part of me is going “stop with the extremes” the other part of me is going “but this is realistic, in how teens think.”

Since it’s just about halfway through the book: more lessons are coming, methinks.

Chapter Seventeen

And now Jerry’s assignment is over and the class and Leon wait for Jerry to sell chocolate. “Now, Jerry could become himself again, human again.” Nope, not Jerry’s point of view, not yet. It’s his friend, Goober.

No, I’m not going to sell chocolates.” “Cities fell. Earth opened. Planets tilted. Stars plummeted. And the awful silence.”

And all the pieces have been put into play. How it’ll all work, I have no idea.

Chapter Eighteen

And now, Jerry’s point of view. So we can only guess his reaction to the assignment, and going through with it, and why the “no” even when he didn’t have to say it anymore. But Jerry isn’t sure, either, and he’s in his bedroom wondering why.

Also, his bedroom has a linoleum floor. Sorry, I find that odd and worth noting. Just because.

He hadn’t planned to do any such thing of course.”

“Cruelty sickened Jerry — and the assignment, he realized after a few days, was cruel, even though Archie Costello had insisted that it was only a stunt that everyone would get a kick out of later.”

If cruelty sickens you, Jerry, don’t read this book. Also, change schools while you can. Is homeschooling an option?

Chapter Nineteen

Mention of a road trip and getting carsick! Yay for 2013 and medicine for that.

Some mixed reactions from Jerry’s peers, who basically also want to just say no to selling chocolate.

 

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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.

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