Reading

Banned Book Week – The Chocolate War

Welcome to Banned Book Week!

For this year I decided to read a book that I had never heard of before. It is The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier.

It is 1974. Trinity High School is a Catholic prep school run through a combination of fear and intimidation. The two main people in charge are Brother Leon and Archie.

Brother Leon is the acting headmaster. He has misappropriated some funds and desperately needs to make them up. The annual school fundraiser, a chocolate sale, needs to be a huge success. He ups everyone’s quota from 25 to 50 boxes.

Archie is the assigner for The Vigils, a secret student society. He dreams up elaborate pranks that he then assigns to underclassmen to carry out.

Both of these guys are master manipulators and the chocolate sale becomes a power play between them. Brother Leon needs Archie to use The Vigils to force the kids into making the sale a success. Archie loves the fact that the administration needs him so he agrees with one exception. He assigns Jerry Renault, a freshman, the task of refusing to sell chocolate for 10 days. This makes Brother Leon crazy but eventually everyone realizes that it is a Vigils prank. That is fine until day 11 when Jerry still refuses, thus standing up to both the school and The Vigils with violent repercussions.

This book can be difficult to relate to from an adult female perspective at first. The violence seems unlikely but then I remembered some of the stories I heard from people in an all-male Catholic school near my hometown and they were similar.

My main question while reading the book was why did everyone go along with what The Vigils made them do? No one had rebelled before. When Jerry did there were no planned consequences. They had a meeting to decide what to do with him. I just couldn’t see it happening. Maybe it was a product of the time and the culture of a Catholic school where questioning authority was unheard of. “School spirit” was also invoked a lot to make people do things. If they complained they were lacking in school spirit. Why didn’t they want to help their school? Once I substituted “patriotism” for “school spirit” I started to see how this pressure could work in the world today.

The Controversy

The Chocolate War has been challenged and banned often since its publication. It was the 4th most challenged book from 1990-1999 and the 3rd most challenged from 2000-2009. The complaints are about the violence, the language, portraying religious characters as bad people, and the sexually explicit talk.

Giveaway

Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing to win a copy of The Chocolate War and a gift certificate from Chocomize so you can make your own custom chocolate bar to eat while reading. Because, no matter what happened in this book chocolate is good thing!

Have you read this book? What did you think? Is it a product of it’s time or is it still relevant today?

Your Clue

This collection of reviews for Banned Book Week was planned by Sheila at Book Journey. Collect a clue from participating blogs every day and use them at the end of the week to enter to win a prize.

The clue today is Wood Scrabble Tile C

13 Comments

  • Chris (Nerfreader)

    This is a book that I’ve always heard about but never knew what it was about. I kept getting it mixed up with I Am the Cheese, which I don’t think I’ve read either. Thanks for your review. Now I don’t have to read it! I am having flashbacks to our orchestra chocolate sale. Luckily it wasn’t has high-pressure as this.

  • Barb

    I haven’t read it, but from reading your review, I’d say that this book is a product of it’s time. Doesn’t sound it a book that I’d want to read.

  • Kim

    I have read this book and was very moved by it. There have been so many bullying-related suicides lately, I feel this book should be embraced by educators, not run from.

    The shift of the student body’s attitude is a bit jarring but entirely possible in a mob mentality.

    Thanks for the review.

  • Esme

    I had never heard of this, the whole banned book concept drives me crazy, if you are a school or a library fine do not carry a book because you think it is not appropriate but who are these people that decide books should be banned, just do not read it if it offends your morality.

  • Darlene

    I liked “The Chocolate War” but this kind of thing, for banned book week, is driving me crazy this year.

    Old books, written 40 years ago or more, being talked about as if they were the only things being banned.

    Right now, today, there’s a movement online to pressure a little e-book publisher, Organge Cat Publishing, to suppress a book that isn’t even officially out yet. (Leaked.)

    That’s Keeley Thomson: Demon Girl. Written by K.L Byron.

    They aren’t just trying to stop the local school or library from carrying a book this time, people are actually trying to stop it all together because of… Well, pretty much everything. Mainly that it has a dismissive tone towards Christianity.

    I made a point of requesting an advanced copy and the people at OCP just gave it to me (even though I’m no one in particular) and I have to say it’s a good book over all. Definitely not something objectionable enough to ban or suppress like this. Just because a few people fear it will lead some kids to question the validity of god.

What Do You Think?

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