Book Reviews

Banned Books Week, part deux

Today’s book review: The Chocolate War by Robert Cromier

chocolate 3Review: After the death of his mother, Jerry (a freshman at an all-boy’s prep school) is given an “assignment” by the Vigils, a gang in the school. Jerry is supposed to refuse selling chocolates in the annual sale. Jerry does this, but takes it a step further and continues to refuse selling after the “assignment” is over. This really angers the headmaster because he overspent on this candy sale and all the chocolates must be sold to break even. All that remains to be sold are those that Jerry was supposed to sell. The Vigils begin to up their harassment of Jerry, calling at all hours, making him an outcast, etc. A student-only assembly is called and raffle tickets sold, upon which boxing moves are written. Jerry will then have to fight the class bully, Emile Janza using the moves on the raffle tickets. The two fight as directed until Janza must aim for Jerry’s groin, but Jerry blocks the blow. From then on, Janza ignores the rules and beats the tar out of Jerry. The book ends with Jerry waiting for an ambulance, telling his friend not to “disturb the universe.”2

This book is a fairly well-known banned book. Cormier uses an interesting mechanism changing the point of view from chapter to chapter. Despite criticisms, the book has been the recipient of some literacy awards, including the ALA Best Books for Young Adults in 1974, among others.

Audience: This book is appropriate for students in grades 9-12. It was very complex and somewhat difficult to keep up with what is going on (as you might have noticed from my synopsis above), which a younger audience will most definitely struggle with.  It also is a book that has grappled with challenges to its appropriateness for its intended audience.

Personal Reaction:

I am not sure what it was about this novel, but I struggled with it. I wasn’t sure what was going on from chapter to chapter and I didn’t feel as if the characters were all that believable. I found myself rereading whole chapters because I just couldn’t seem to focus—like the story didn’t draw me in. I think part of the problem for me, is the fact that this book is filled with subjects that really make me uncomfortable: corruption, intimidation, and brutality. These are not topics that I want to “escape to” when I read for pleasure. While these are my personal feelings toward this book—no, I didn’t like it—I still believe that it stands as a pillar of strength for the First Amendment. Don’t let my distaste for this book dissuade you from reading it.chocolate

A few reasons for banning/challenge:

  • Use of profanity (there are supposedly 171 “swear words” within this novel)
  • Sexual references
  • References to bribery and distortion
  • Physical violence
  • Reference to masturbation

This novel is still among the most frequently banned books in America, even decades after publication.

Themes:

Hazing, bullying, intimidation, corruption, not disturbing the universe, peer pressure, realistic fiction, gangs, power, cruelty, brutality

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