Twitter Facebook RSS Email
Pinterest Instagram Google Plus Tumblr

Support Indies

Get Updates by Email

 

Search Coffee and a Book Chick Archives

 

Blog Archive

04 October 2012


Called the "Watergate of the high school level" by the National Council of Teachers of English in 1975 when The Chocolate War was first published, it's amazing to see how thirty-seven years has not changed much when it comes to the banning of books. It is startling at times when you consider how books are a target, and that seemingly thoughtful individuals can be pulled into the fray of banding together to support censorship. Surprising and disconcerting, to say the least, but I like to use the word frightening.

About twenty years ago, browsing the library in a small town in Maryland, I came across The Chocolate War. Intrigued, I checked it out and read it in one night, paging as fast as I could to find out what was to happen in this bully-filled boys' school in Massachusetts. It kept me up half the night, reading in my room by the hallway light. I was struck by this seemingly simple story of a school tasked to sell thousands of boxes of chocolates in order to satisfy the administrators, but I soon realized it was much more. Diving into issues that are still relevant today such as bullying and peer pressure, The Chocolate War is a reminder that not wanting to get involved can sometimes be much much worse.

I read this for Banned Book Week, hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, and I'm so glad I did. This is the 30th anniversary of Celebrating the Freedom to Read, and if you'd like to get a little more information from the American Library Association, click here or here. Reading The Chocolate War gave me a chance to walk down my bookish memory lane and to celebrate creativity, the honesty that writing can bring to the forefront things no one wants to talk about. The Chocolate War is a brilliant and insightful cut into high school life and it is timeless.


Jerry Renault is a freshman in high school, trying to secure a spot on the football team. After moving into an apartment with his father following his mother's painful battle against cancer, Jerry's sad memories are put to the side in order to concentrate on school. When the Vigils, a group of boys notorious for their "assignments" to students that result in outrageous pranks, assigns Jerry the task to not sell chocolates, Jerry takes it further by going longer than assigned, ultimately defying both the school's corruption and the Vigils. It is a story that reminds one to, no matter how difficult, not always follow peer pressure and to remember that one individual can, in fact, really change things. It may be dangerous, as in Jerry's case, but it may be the right thing to do.

And speaking of the right thing to do, let's talk about corruption. It surprises me that this book would ever be banned because Jerry's silent defiance against the corrupt school administrator, Brother Leon and Andrew of the Vigils, might be an uplifting story teenagers should read. It's an opportunity to stretch their minds, to really think about what is right and wrong, to openly discuss how people can be led astray so easily because "everyone else" feels a certain way. It might be tough to go against the grain, and sometimes it might be tough to even shift your thinking from what everyone else thinks you should be doing, to what you know to be right. The level of control exerted by varying age groups in this book is astounding, but it is not far at all from reality. To ban a book like this, or any book that makes one think, is book-blasphemous. Is there language in the book? Yes. Are there sexual images portrayed? Yep. Do teenagers talk and do the things that are in this book? Sure do. But do we really want to hide our heads in the sand and think that the book is the sole reason that puts ideas into kids' heads? Come on now. The Chocolate War is a gritty expose of high school corruption, of bullying,  ego, control, our primitive lust for barbaric events, and what happens when people abuse authority.

For those out there who are considering removing a book, please think hard. Re-examine what makes your opinion the right one over someone else's. What authority might you have to determine society's moral compass?

Passages of Note:
"Simple, Carter, simple." Archie reveled in the moment, basking in Carter's admiration, Carter who had humiliated him at The Vigils meeting. Someday he'd get even with Carter but at the moment it was satisfying enough to have Carter regarding him with awe and envy. "You see, Carter, people are two things: greedy and cruel. So we have a perfect set-up here. The greed part - a kid pays a buck for a chance to win a hundred. Plus fifty boxes of chocolates. The cruel part - watching two guys hitting each other, maybe hurting each other, while they're safe in the bleachers. That's why it works, Carter, because we're all bastards." (p.231)
Carter disguised his disgust. Archie repelled him in many ways but most of all by the way he made everybody feel dirty, contaminated, polluted. As if there was no goodness at all in the world. And yet Carter had to admit that he was looking forward to the fight, that he himself had bought not one but two tickets. Did that make him like everybody else - greedy and cruel, as Archie said? The question surprised him. Hell, he'd always thought of himself as one of the good guys. He often used his position as president of The Vigils to keep control of Archie, to prevent him from going overboard on assignments. But did that make him one of the good guys? The question bothered Carter. That's what he hated about Archie. He made you feel guilty all the time. Christ, the world couldn't be as bad as Archie said it was. But hearing the shouts of the kids in the bleachers, impatient for the fight to get underway, Carter wondered. (p.232)
FTC Disclosure: I checked this book out from my local Virginia Beach library.

Giveaway (ending October 7th) - One copy of Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War.
(For US residents only due to shipping costs.)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

27 comments:

  1. This sounds EXCELLENT! And really classic, based on the themes you have discussed. This is classic high school drama...fighting "the man", doing the right thing, bullying etc. I can't believe this is banned...I'm always shocked at what is being pulled off shelves. I had access to all kinds of good stuff when I was growing up. I consider myself lucky.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fantastic review!I listened to this one audio and borrowed it from the library but I do wish to own a copy of my own!

    Thank you for being a part of banned books week!

    ReplyDelete
  3. It might be just me but the rafflecopter did not show any spaces to enter what you asked, name (Sheila), email (journey through books@gmail.com, and blog address: http://bookjourney.wordpress.com/

    ReplyDelete
  4. After reading your review, I can't imagine why this book was every challenged. It sounds to me like it explores so many relevant topics.

    When I read about the books that are challenged, I'm glad my son went to school in a tolerant community.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I read this as an adult, too, and was struck by the realism of it. I think parents object to school-assigned books a lot of times because they think they are "dark" and "depressing". The reason they are assigned is because they are usually thought-provoking, but parents are so afraid of anything that might encourage or feed into teenage depression that they object to their kids' being assigned to read books with this type of outlook.

    ReplyDelete
  6. A book I read, along with the sequel, a few years ago. Interesting how reading other people's thoughts on a novel can open our eyes to things we may not have picked up on, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hadn't heard of this one before but it's on my TBR list now. Thanks! :D

    ReplyDelete
  8. I've never read this but it sounds like a book I need to get to! Thank you for your great review!

    I homeschool, no one can ban books at my house ;)

    ReplyDelete
  9. I have heard a lot of this book but I have never read it. I don't believe in banning books at all.

    Kendal
    Kinx's Book Nook

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm ashamed to admit I've never read The Chocolate War - such a great review, and perfect example of why this week confounds me. WHY would a book like this be challenged??

    ReplyDelete
  11. I haven't read this one before, even though I've heard so much about it. Thanks for the review/giveaway! I am relatively new to the book blogging community, but I love how much enthusiasm is going into Banned Books Week.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I am not very familiar with this book, but I am shocked to hear that it's been banned! It has such worthy ideas and storytelling in it, and it always makes me so angry when I hear that beloved books are banned. No book should be banned, regardless of what's inside. We are a free people, and that means our freedoms should extend to what we want to read, and what we allow our children to read.

    ReplyDelete
  13. My favorite banned book is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee- I have always loved that story

    ReplyDelete
  14. I am so delighted this is your selection. Banning books breaks my heart.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I've never read this one! I had no idea it was a banned book either. Somehow makes me want to read it more.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Banning a book makes me want to read it even more! It's called freedom of speech. I can read what I want, no matter how "dirty" or controversial it is!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I've had this book on my list to read for a long time so I was thrilled you chose it for your giveaway. Rading the paragraphs you included in your review heightened my interest in reading this book.

    It's infuriating and aggravating that books are banned. I think it's such a close-minded, ignorant reaction by people and completely unfair to the children missing out as a result.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I don't think any books should be banned! I love Banned Books week because it's always interesting to me to see what books end up on the banned lists. Then, I'll go read the books on the list just to see what I think! Thanks for this amazing giveaway! This book sounds great and I would love to win it!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I reviewed this one today as well (a re-read, but I haven't read it since I was in high school myself)! I think I get why it's frequently challenged--it's very dark, strikingly adult, and the good guys don't win--but those are the same reasons it deserves to be read and discussed. And the "high-school Watergate description" totally fits.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I haven't read this one... I wasn't even aware it was a banned book. I suppose anything could be offensive to someone, somewhere. But at some point children, actually young adults, are going to have to learn tolerance and how to compromise, and isn't that what they should be learning in school? (And thanks for the giveaway. I'd like to read this one.)

    ReplyDelete
  21. This is actually a book that I have never read before. Thanks so much for the chance to win. It is great checking out the blogs of the others out there who are participating in Sheila's event! :)

    ReplyDelete
  22. Since Banned Book Week, I hadn't heard of this book. On my review of Lord of the Flies, someone remarked that The Chocolate War reminded them of it. I'll definitely try to get my hands on a copy. It is disheartening that some people want to stick their head in the sand, as you say, and pretend like children are little angels without outside influence. Not true. I think books like this are more helpful than harmful for teens in preparing them to live in the adult world.

    I hate the idea of banning books. I'm pretty conservative in what I read, but why should my ideas be imposed on others. I went to a high school that fortunately didn't ban books (that I know of). So many of the books I read while in school are on the banned book lists and they had such an affect on me. It's sad to think that some teens may miss out on such books because of someones idea to challenge them.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I liked The Chocolate War when I read it years ago. :)There were certainly some very disturbing scenes in this book, but are these scenes any more disturbing than real life? No! The important thing to keep in mind when you're helping your child read books is to ask "is THIS child going to be hurt by reading this book?" Sometimes, the answer to that is "yes." But, let's face it, most kids can handle a book like this!

    ReplyDelete
  24. I liked The Chocolate War when I read it years ago. :)There were certainly some very disturbing scenes in this book, but are these scenes any more disturbing than real life? No! The important thing to keep in mind when you're helping your child read books is to ask "is THIS child going to be hurt by reading this book?" Sometimes, the answer to that is "yes." But, let's face it, most kids can handle a book like this!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Thanks for the giveaway :) I remember seeing this book around when I was younger but I can't believe I haven't read it. It sounds great.

    I am totally against banning books. Parental censorship is fine until a child reaches chronological and/or emotional maturity b/c it is parents' right and responsibility to do so. If one doesn't like the content of a book/movie/TV show/music, don't read/watch/listen. But nobody has the right to limit one's entertainment choices.

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...