I Am the Cheese, published in 1977, was Robert Cormier's second young adult novel. It tells the story of a teenaged boy who discovers that his family is part of a witness protection program and that his parents have been keeping secrets from him all his life. As he tries to determine who and what he is, he is threatened and finally overcome by the terrifying forces of a government that is more interested in preserving its own power than in protecting one small boy. The idea for the book grew out of Cormier's reading a magazine article about the then-new federal witness protection program and his fascination with the idea of individuals struggling against an unjust society.
The book has sold consistently well since its publication, but it has also attracted controversy. Some have felt that the book's complicated structure and pessimistic ending are inappropriate for young people, and the novel has occasionally been challenged and banned in school libraries. Nonetheless, it has been recognized for excellence by several influential organizations, including the American Library Association and the Children's Literature Association. It was named an Outstanding Book of the Year by the New York Times and a Best Book of the Year by School Library Journal, among other recognitions.