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

The Chocolate War Wrap Up

My The Chocolate War posts:

Chapters One to Ten.

Chapters Eleven to Twenty.

Chapters Twenty One to Thirty.

Chapters Thirty One to Thirty Nine.

My Review.

Let me say: I really enjoyed this reading! Not just reading The Chocolate War; but also doing it as a group; and sharing these posts. And I also liked that it wasn’t tied to any particular new book promotion.

I also like that it confirmed my general distrust of “social reading.”

I like the social aspect of the aftermath of reading, obviously: I blog and I tweet and I talk about books all the time! I love that social aspect of reading — after I’m done.

And to be honest, as those who follow me on Twitter know, at times I did deliberately go onto Twitter and share a few in-the-moment thoughts.

But — and here’s the thing — my doing so was limited, and voluntary, and deliberate. It was also brief and rather limited and targeted; I had questions about the (non) appearance of women.

What made me think about social reading was the reader response I did with the book. Those responses reflect what I was thinking in the moment; what I knew based on what I had read, and what I had heard about the book.

Contrast that to the review itself: the review is, of course, more polished and thought out. It also leaves some things out. I decided not to explore certain things: Jerry’s family having a housekeeper; some of the teacher interactions that I think wouldn’t be allowed, even in a private school, in 2013. I didn’t dwell on some of the dated references, such as the hippies and the slang. When it came to balancing what I did and did not want to say in my review, these things weren’t significant enough for me to include. Now, for someone else? They may be. That’s OK — but I think if I’d been discussing “socially” as I read, these things would have been given greater significance in the moment than they warranted when looking at the book as a whole. In other words: it would have made mountains out of molehills. It would have changed what mattered.

It also could have changed how I thought about the book. The bit I talked about on Twitter had to do with the treatment of women; there was a mini conversation about the lack of women and eyeball rape and the like. As it was going on, I was thinking — how easy to go off on this tangent. How easy to make this a book about how women are viewed, or where viewed in 1974. That conversation could have overwhelmed and overshadowed what is powerful about The Chocolate War.

Then there is how I learned about things; being able to meet the book new-to-me. Or, yes, spoilers: how does social reading avoid spoilers? Even “just” a highlighted portion shifts the focus of my reading, to tell me that sentence has some type of meaning when it may not. I’d prefer not to have someone else’s priorities impact my reading.

So! I got a lot out of reading The Chocolate War: in terms of the book itself; in how I shape and reshape a review; and in how I like to interact with a text and other readers.

What about you? What are your thoughts on The Chocolate War? And on this read and blog a thon?

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


  1. Your words struck me: “how easy to go off on this tangent. How easy to make this a book about how women are viewed, or were viewed in 1974. That conversation could have overwhelmed and overshadowed what is powerful about The Chocolate War.”

    Your observations about the portrayal of women were true and, I think, important. But proportion still matters, doesn’t it?

    I’m reminded of another recent conversation, this one about the Cho Chang character from Harry Potter. ( I reacted strongly in agreement with the critique, yet my admiration for J.K. Rowling remains.

    On this tangent of portrayals of females in fiction… can I blame Salinger for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, or is that unfair?

  2. Maybe my last question is, can I blame Salinger for *inspiring* the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. Come on, I get to blame someone for this awful 2-d character, don’t I? 🙂 And I promise to still love Salinger.

    Truly, Liz, thanks for sharing these thoughtful reader responses, the review, and this wrap-up. You passed on easy.

  3. Elizabeth Burns says

    Ki-Wing, it’s the balance, I think: acknowledging and seeing it. And is it “just” a reflection (accurate if disturbing) of the way the boys see the world? And even then, it warrants discussion, I think. Or at least notice!

    I think the critique of JKR is a good comparison; can’t one like a work yet still see flaws or weaknesses?

    And oh: much to think about with Salinger and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl! I think another reread is in order.

  4. The Chocolate War was, for me when I read it as a teen, both way too dark and way too “boy”– that was the way it felt when I read it, like it was for boys and I was watching from the outside, and it’s only now with your commentary that I realize it probably has something to do with the dearth of female characters (let alone well-rounded female characters). I didn’t enjoy it at all. So I liked reading the commentary now to help me understand it from a YA-librarian standpoint– that the darkness is the POINT, and it IS a great read for the people who are into books like that. Even though that person is not me, I know how to recommend it now.

  5. Elizabeth Burns says

    rockinlibrarian, while I don’t remember why i didn’t read this, I can believe my teen self would have thought what you say (for boys, etc.) And to a certain extent, I “get” that the depiction/lack of girls is accurate for the time. And thank you — librarians, being able to recommend books they don’t necessarily “like,” is something that I don’t think people always get. It’s not easy!