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Book Review: The Chocolate War

This in another one of ALA’s most frequently challenged books. Someone is always trying to ban The Chocolate War. They should settle down: it’s a cool but bleak read.

The Chocolate War is that rare thing in young adult literature: a relentlessly depressing book without any positive outcomes. But Robert Cormier is good at making you care about characters and then never giving them a break.


The Chocolate War summary

Set in a snooty private school, The Chocolate War hinges on one boy’s battle with a secret society called The Vigils — think Skull And Bones — with more sweaters and less beer and frat-style hanky panky.

A quick summary: Jerry Renault refuses to participate in the annual fund-raising chocolate sale. Supposedly the sale is voluntary, but The Vigils have a stake in making sure that a certain amount of money is raised. Their leader, Archie, makes Jerry’s life a living hell.

The Vigils have the entire school in their grip, and the saddest part of the book is how the oppressed eventually abandon Jerry as the persecution mounts. This is a book about being alone: I’m sure there are plenty of fancy metaphors out there about this book, but it is about being ALONE.

Fussy poet T.S. Eliot wrote this line, delivered by the equally fussy Prufrock: “Do I dare disturb the universe?”

Jerry has this poster in his locker and asks himself the question more and more frequently as the book progresses.

By the end, Jerry has received the beatdown of a lifetime and decided that it’s best just to give in.

Ouch. Don’t look here for comfort, kids. Look here for psychological torture and heavy petting scenes galore, but this ain’t fluffy.

Don’t read this book because it’s good, even though it is good.  Read The Chocolate War because someone is always trying to ban it and nobody gets to tell you you can’t read something.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • David Cain May 15, 2009, 7:16 am

    Sounds great. I never knew what it was about, only that it had naughty bits and was always checked out of the library.

    You could do a lot worse than reading only books that have been banned.

  • Marie June 25, 2009, 12:41 am

    I’ll admit that I was forced to read this book in seventh grade and have never looked at chocolate-selling campaigns the same way again. I hated the ending then. I was young, impressionable, and innocent and I couldn’t believe that Jerry stood alone at the end. I always thought that I would have stood beside him if I had been a character in the book. Unfortunately, as I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that horrible things happen in this world that have to rhyme or reason. The writing is excellent and I can seen some underlying themes but I still wished that someone had been in the ring to fall beside Jerry in the end.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 25, 2009, 6:37 am

      I’m with you, and most kids would be too. The thought of going friendless for so long, taking a beating like that, and then for what? It’s rough to think about and it’s a complicated message.

  • priscilla March 21, 2011, 2:23 pm

    i think it was good