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 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.
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?
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.