The Chocolate War – Robert Cormier

March 24, 2010 § 16 Comments

Do I dare disturb the universe?

When I picked this book from the library to read for the Banned Books Challenge, I had no idea what the story was going to be about. With a title like The Chocolate War, I had the vague idea playing at the back of my head that it would be somewhat fluffy, and given that it was shelved at the Youth Section of the library, I imagined the book to be a light read.

Hence I wasn’t quite prepared for how unforgiving the book was going to be.

In a very small nutshell, The Chocolate War is about how one boy, Jerry Renault, refused to participate in a chocolate sale, a ‘school-spirit’ fund-raising activity. By choosing to do what he did, by defying the ‘norms’ and sticking to his decision, he unveils to us readers what truly goes on behind the scenes; how completely cruel a situation can become when things don’t go smoothly for the people in power.

In the introduction, Cormier tells us that his book was initially rejected for being ‘too complicated’ and having a ‘downbeat ending’. The plot was definitely complex, with the narrative jumping from this person to that within the span of a few pages, and at times the characters did seem to blur into one big blob. But there were a few characters who were completely distinctive; they had their own voice, their thoughts so clearly different from one another. I’m huge on characterisation, so though I didn’t like many of the characters (I think I didn’t even like Renault much), I did feel them, like they were real people. Which is important for me. They felt real; cold, cruel and completely nuts, but real.

As for the ending, well, ‘downbeat’ doesn’t quite cover it. I have to admit that I was a little disturbed that the book didn’t end on a slightly higher note; maybe I just wanted something good to happen in the story somehow. But for the same reason, it was honest. Things don’t suddenly become better, and more often than not, victims remain victims no matter how much they fight, and the system wins. It’s a bleak picture to paint, but it’s a book that tells you, “This is what happens sometimes.”

Did I enjoy the book? I don’t think I can honestly say I did, because I was cringing half the time. But it is a book worth its weight, and it throws light at some dark corners we mostly ignore.

Rating: 3.5

*

The Movie:

For some reason, this movie reminded me much of The Virgin Suicides. It kind of exuded the same vibe, a similar kind of feeling. I’m not sure if it’s because I watched both movies so soon after reading the respective books, but somehow, the movies just don’t feel as good as the books.

One thing about the movie that really irritated me was the fact that the ‘boys’ (who are supposed to be about 15) don’t look like boys at all. Half of them looked like they belonged on a university campus, and a couple of them even looked old enough to be in the work force.

Another issue I had was with how it ended. In the book, the ending was something that really stuck to me; it was something unique to the book. And to think that in the movie, the ending was completely changed, it just felt too weird for me.

I’ve mentioned this, that a movie is a completely different media compared to a book, and sometimes different techniques need to be employed for literature to work on the big screen. But I think the change was something too major, it almost killed the story.

There were some parts of the movie that I found quite good. But overall, the good parts just weren’t frequent enough.

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§ 16 Responses to The Chocolate War – Robert Cormier

  • LOL I’m amused by the idea of possible fluff from Robert Cormier. Ever since I was introduced to his ‘I Am the Cheese’ I… well, let’s just say that every time I see his name on the cover I have to pause and think to myself whether or not I am mentally prepared to dive into his crazy, intense world. 8D Also, didn’t know there was a movie for this book! Tres cool

    • Michelle says:

      This being my first Cormier, I’m pretty sure I won’t be making the same mistake again. Hehe.. It does take some kind of mental preparation, which evidently I didn’t have for this one. =p

  • Amanda says:

    This is one of those books that I want to read someday, but am not sure if I’m prepared to right now.

  • Tony says:

    Read this several times when I was a teenager, and I remember liking it (unless I am completely confusing it with something else!). This is the one set in a Catholic school with Priests as teachers, right?

  • cbjames says:

    I’ve heard that Cormier wanted his readers to be angry at the ending. Angry enough to do something about it. There really is no one like him at all thesedays. It’s not exactly a popular book with my students but it does get a small readership year after year.

    I agree with you about the movie for the most part. I did like it overall, though the ending is a bit cowardly considering how successful the book was with the much more hard hitting ending. (I can say hard hitting with a smile because the first time I read it I threw it against the wall as hard as I could I was so mad about the ending.)

    I do thinkg that the original ending would have been too difficult to watch on film.

    • Michelle says:

      It’s interesting to know that your students read the book. I wonder what the general response is like?

      And I think you’re right, the original ending might have been a little painful to watch on film.

  • Suko says:

    Michelle, this book has been banned and I guess it’s “controversial” in some ways. I would like to read it, eventually.

  • mee says:

    Knowing the beginning like what you told us, I can’t see how it can get dark *confused*.

    • Michelle says:

      Haha. Well, the ‘dark’ is when the book talks about what happens behind the scenes, with the teachers being corrupt, the bullying that happens, etc.

  • jehara says:

    I loved Cormier in high school. I loved I am the Cheese and I liked this book a lot too. It is completely infuriating what happens, but I like it when books give an honest, complicated ending. I haven’t read this in so long, now I want to go re-read it.
    Didn’t know there was a movie for it.

    • Michelle says:

      You’re definitely right about it being completely infuriating. I wanted to yell at the book, even knowing it wouldn’t change the ending one bit.

  • Nishita says:

    Like you, I have also dismissed this book when I saw it on library shelves. Your review is really intriguing, just the perfect amount of information to tease without really giving anything away 🙂

    I hope I enjoy the book as much as you did. And I don’t mind downbeat endings too much…

    • Michelle says:

      I don’t usually mind downbeat endings either. Rather, it sometimes adds to the believability of the book for me. (Maybe I’m just a little on the gloomy side.) I hope you do pick it up and enjoy it.

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