The Chocolate War
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Jerry Renault, is a freshmen at Trinity, a Catholic high school for boys. He is a quiet and reserved student, silently coping following the death of his mother.
One day Jerry is approached by Archie Costello, who is the Assigner for the Vigils, a secret underground student society. Each student when joining the Vigils is assigned a task (think hazing and peer pressure). Jerry’s assignment is to refuse to sell any chocolates for ten days during the school’s fundraiser.
Jerry decides after the ten days to still refuse to sell chocolates, which puts him at heads with the Vigils and sadistic vice principal Brother Leon. His defiant act turns into an all-out war with bullying and coercion.
The novel highlights the Vigil’s manipulation, cruelty and control over students. This very dark depiction of the abuse of authority could easily be a metaphor for any corrupt political society in the world.
Due to its content the book is frequently banned and appears third on the American Library Association’s list of Top 100 Banned / Challenged Books in 2000 – 2009.
The novel was adapted into a feature film in 1988, directed by Keith Gordon.
Not a simple chocolate sale
The first thing that grabbed my attention was the male point of view. The author is always direct while creating a concrete depiction of the world surrounding the protagonist. The protagonist develops a sense of purpose and a necessity to impact the world he lives in, in exchange, he is ostracized. From the beginning to the end, I kept hoping for the hero to grab a moment of victory, or at least, savor a little justice. That moment of redemption never came and with no doubt it makes Cormier's novel a more unique and certainly, unpredictable YA story.
A more developed group of characters would have been a plus. Brother Leon,Archie and of course Jerry(protagonist) represent different dimensions of the human condition. Jerry is the idealist, Archie is the egocentric coward and Leon the manipulative abusive. They represent the best and the worst and therefore are interesting and capture the readers attention. On the other hand, Obie, Carter and Goober could do more. After reading the book, these three left some unresolved conflicts: Obie's emotional dichotomy of admiration/hate against Archie, Carter false sense of control and authority- Archie marionette and Goober motivations for abandoning everything he enjoys.
I was left with questions and I'm still hoping Jerry wins his war. He acted guided by his values and he truly changed his universe.I read this book on a leap of faith, no doubt an excellent decision.
True Depiction of High School Life
Reader reviewed by HHS E12A B4
This review of The
Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier, is written by five high school seniors as
an independent reading assignment for our 12th grade English class.
first, the book was a little overwhelming as it seemed to jump back and forth
and new characters were always being introduced. This made it difficult to follow. Until about halfway through the book, it was
hard to understand what was truly occurring. However, after that point, it was easy to follow yet action packed and
novel was the first of many for Robert Cormier. Other popular works by Cormier include I am the Cheese, After
the First Death, and We All Fall Down. The Chocolate War is his most
well-known, yet all the previously mentioned have won awards. His work is very controversial, often due to
vulgarity, profanity, and the fact that the protagonist usually doesnt win.
the novel, Jerry Renault is thrown into Trinity High School
with the question, Do I dare disturb the universe? It seems as though everyone is trying to
influence him as he prepares to start a new life at a new high school, shortly
after the death of his mother. The grasp
of the schools secret society, the Vigils, will have a greater impact on his
life than he would ever imagine.
book was very easy to relate to due to the situations that were brought up such
as peer pressure, bullying, and longing for power. Some may consider the language offensive,
however, it was a very realistic high school setting. Although there were many different
characters, they were all very well developed and presented in a believable
a whole, we would recommend this book to anyone wanting insight into the true
life of a high school student. Understand that the book may be offensive to some, yet the vulgarity is
necessary to portray high school life accurately. The books ability to relate to real life is
unbelievable. Even the most minute
details that many overlook truthfully enhance the reading experience. So if you dare disturb the universe, this is
a book for you.
The Chocolate Waste Land
Reader reviewed by Sarah
In the title of my post, I alluded to T.S. Eliot's poem, "The Waste
Land," because the hopeless emptiness of irrational war in Eliot's poem
and Robert Cormier's book "The Chocolate War" were comparable to me. Of
course, I don't think that Jerry's study in school of "The Waste Land"
got him to ask "Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?" That line featured on
a poster came from another of Eliot's poems, "The Love Song of Alfred
J. Prufrock". Does Prufrock, someone who seems insecure and uncool,
dare to disturb the universe by asking a girl out? Jerry disturbs the
universe when he refuses to obey the requirements of The Vigils.
Prufrock's universal disturbance could potentially bring him into
social activity, while Jerry's disturbance ostracizes him from his
schoolmates. I find the idea of disturbing the universe to be an
interesting one, and how this novel portrays it as dangerous and brave.
Jerry disturbs and is hurt. Most teens want to change the world, which
is seen as a positive thing. I don't think that Cormier is telling his
readers that being a non-conformist is a bad thing, perhaps he is
warning potential non-conformists of the dangers of doing so because of
those who think everyone should conform. Jerry's encounter with the
hippie becomes foreshadowing - Jerry is the non-disturber to the
hippie, but Jerry is the disturber to The Vigils and Trinity.
reader, I felt that the novel ended abruptly, but it couldn't have had
resolution like other books, which would make it cheesy and
predictable. Like it seems to be in real life, the villains didn't die,
didn't receive punishment adequate for the crimes they had done, and
got away with more than they should have. I thought and still am
thinking about the book. What is just? Why didn't someone stand up for
Jerry? Why is Archie so determined to have power over other people?
Deeper questions are also asked: what can I do to prevent this from
happening ever again? Have I been a participant or bystander in a
similar event? I am still thinking.
I loved and hated "The
Chocolate War". I loved how I was drawn in and couldn't put it down (I
wished that the Social Security Office had been busier so I could have
read longer!), and I loved the way that it made me think. I hated that
Cormier felt the need to write this book, because I believe that moving
books are written because the author wants to give a message that will
inspire other people to change. I hate that people hate and can become
mob-like in their abusive actions. I suppose that the question I should
ask myself and others is this: "Am I brave enough to conform to the
non-conformists in order to show my non-support of hatred? What sort of
courage is it to disturb the universe?"
To Sell or Not to Sell
Reader reviewed by Lisa
I was very surprised by this book. It was hard to get used to the character changes at first but because the theme of the chocolate sale was essentially the same for everyone it started to get easier to keep up with. The middle of the story really hooked me in and I was really hoping Jerry would prevail but we all know that didnt happen. Its always good, I think, to read a story that doesnt turn out the way you wanted it to. I didnt like the message in the end and how Jerry gave in to all of the schools traditions and rules even if it was only in his mind. I wanted Jerry to be the rebel and believe in that poster that was in his locker that said, Do I dare disturb the universe? Other than this the book was o.k. I don't see why it's taught in schools with all of the taboo subjects and the many better books out there.
Reader reviewed by cara
Usually i dread reading books for school, but I really didnt mind reading this one. It really shows how kids get bullied by just a few words. I dont think its for kids under 12 or so. Theres foul language. But it was a pretty good book, I think I might read the sequel.
A Good book
Reader reviewed by Allire
Jerry is made to sell chocolates for his school fund raiser. Except that a gang, called The Vigils are making him refuse to sell the chocolates for a period of set days. Once his "assignment" is up, he is supposed to sell the chocolates for his school. Only he refuses. He is not only going against The Vigils, but also against his school.
This book was really good. I thought that it was a bit hard to get into, but overall it was a decent read. I liked how Jerry was so set on what HE wanted, instead of listening to his school and the gang that has been known to bully people. I didn't like the ending, however. But I'm really glad that I read it.
A classic...that still works
Reader reviewed by Brenda
One kid refuses to sell chocolates for a school fundraiser and the impact that one small step has on the entire school. Do you dare to disturb the universe?
Ever since its publication in 1974, this book has often appeared in the top 10 books that are banned or challenged for sexual content, offensive language, religious viewpoint, being unsuited to age group and violence.
The sexual content being masturbation, the offensive language is certainly not excessive for a boys school and tame by todays standards, Im not sure what they mean by religious viewpoint, unless they mean that some of the brothers at the school are sadistic (and some are good), and I guess it would be unsuited for younger readers. There is graphically described violence.
This is not a sunny book, and its not a Catcher in the Rye about finding yourself. This book, seems to be about manipulators. Everyone at the school with any power, teacher or student, is a master manipulator. For the students that are just trying to get along, there doesnt seem to be any good way to avoid the manipulators without hurting yourself. There also are some points to be made about being an individual and the pain of not being one with the group think.
Its amazing that the points made about forced constant fundraising by schools are still valid after 34 years!
Reader reviewed by Megan
Most high schools are run by the faculty. Trinity high school isn't. It's run by a group of students known as "the Vigils." They take it upon themselves to discipline the students in the school. However, one assignment goes bad. Freshman Jerry was supposed to refuse to sale chocolates in the school fundraiser for ten days, then accept them. But, once the ten days are past, he still refuses. Eventually, the entire school turns against him, hurting him in more ways than one. The Chocolate Wars is definitely one of the best books written.
Reader reviewed by eve
This book is a great read because you see the points of view of not only one character but of many. It paints a very realistic portrait of life. Alhtough I am a girl and the book deals mainly with boys at an all boys school I still found it to be an interesting read.
I suppose that I recommend this book mostly for boys but girls can read it and enjoy it as well.