For the plots and settings of his realistic fiction, Robert Cormier drew primarily from his own experiences as a father and family man, and from the town he knew so well. His first three novels treat somber topics and avoid idealism, common features of most of his later fiction as well. The first three novels, respectively, focus on terminal illness, a seventy-year-old resident of a home for the destitute who has dreams of escape, and a female factory worker with three children who fears an unwanted pregnancy and dreams of a decent home, sufficient food, adequate money, some enjoyment, and companionship.
Cormier’s writing is concise. He deliberately avoids long, descriptive passages. His use of literary devices such as metaphors and similes, however, helps to convey his points succinctly to the reader. Cormier’s quick-paced style often appeals to young people accustomed to the rapid tempo of modern media, especially television. Cormier often claimed, however, to write about adolescents and not for adolescents.
Although Cormier wrote primarily for young people, all his books—for adults, adolescents, and children—typically transcend traditional boundaries. His fiction touches on difficult and often taboo topics, including sex, death, murder, terminal illness, vandalism, human suffering, abortion, revenge, betrayal, alcoholism, terrorism, divorce, gang action, religion, and, sometimes, mysticism.
The Chocolate War
Although all of his young adult books have been popular, The Chocolate War ranks as one of the best-selling books of all time. Cormier’s memory of his son’s reluctance to participate in his school’s candy sale led to the theme for this controversial work. The novel is a bleak account of life in a Catholic boys’ school in Boston. The protagonist is student Jerry Renault, who finds that he must defend himself after he is labeled a rebel by school headmaster Brother Leon and, later, other students.
The Chocolate War is a novel of initiation in which Jerry learns crucial lessons about society—most of them negative. Jerry soon discovers the consequences of nonconformity, of the search for self-identity and achieving one’s individuality.
Ultimately, Jerry is defeated, resulting in a not-so-happy ending for the...
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