BBW: The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Last year for Banned Books Week, I held a giveaway for The Chocolate War. Since I was already reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower as my BBW read, I didn’t have time to read it myself. This year, I figured now was a good a time as any, especially since The Chocolate War is one of the more controversial books on the frequently challenged lists.

REASONS FOR CHALLENGES/BANNING

The Chocolate War has been on the most frequently challenged list, in the top ten, for 2001 (#3), 2002 (3#), 2004 (#1), 2005 (#4), 2006 (#10), 2007 (#2), and 2009 (#10). Robert Cormier has been on the most frequently challenged authors list in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2009. The book comes in at number 4 in the Top 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books: 1990-1999 list, and number 3 in the Top 100 Most Frrequently Challenged Books: 2000-2009 list. Reasons for challenges? Nudity, sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence, and religious viewpoint.

OVERVIEW/REVIEW…beware of possible spoilers

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
ISBN-13: 9-780440-944591 mass market; Sept 2000; 263 pg; Laurel-Leaf
Rating: 3 ♥ / 5 ♥

Rather than just talk about banned books all week, I decided I should probably read one, too. So the first half of this overview will be my review of The Chocolate War.

The “main” character of the book is Jerry, though we are introduced to a number of different narrators throughout the course of the story. The plot revolves around Jerry and a group at his school called the Vigils, plus one teacher – Brother Leon. The whole idea is that Brother Leon is chair of a fundraiser selling chocolates. Though voluntary, no one ever opts out of selling the chocolates – until Jerry does. What seems to be such an innocent thing sets of a chain reaction that effects the whole school (whether they realize it or not).

I definitely liked the book. Jerry is a very sympathetic character whom you just can’t help but cheer for. Archie (head of the Vigils) and Brother Leon are both incredibly loathsome, and I enjoyed disliking them. The characters have great background and are very well realized. The writing is engaging, memorable and well done. However…I was unsatisfied with the ending. Something just seemed to be missing, and it’s not the fact that the ending is not a happy one (I don’t mind non-happy endings). Everything was still just so open and begging for a sequel – the end left me staring in disbelief at the book asking, “yes, right. But what happens next?” Very unfinished to me (and I know life is never finished, and so a story written like a snapshot into someone’s life is not finished, but blah. I like conclusions, thanks.).

So, good story, but beware of the ending. On to the reasons for challenging/banning! We got some good ones here.

Nudity: Um. Yes? Maybe. I’m not sure I remember any full scale nudity, but I may have missed something. There are definitely times when naked body parts are mentioned, but nothing that would incite parents/etc. to ban on nudity alone. Trust me, other books have MUCH more nudity and are no where near the top ten lists.

Sexually explicit: Sort of. Again, no full blown sex but there is definite mention of masturbation and talk of sex. Jerry’s in grade nine. Name me one grade nine boy that hasn’t at least thought of sex and I will bow before you as king of the universe. At that age, a brick wall can set off sexy time thoughts. I know, people will argue that teens younger than grade nine read this book. Well, when I was in school sex education started in grade 4. I’m pretty sure by grade five almost everyone knows about this stuff already. It’s not going to shock kids of today unless they’ve been living in a box.

Offensive language: This is the most ridiculous excuse ever. Do people not realize how ofetn teens/kids hear offensive language? It is everywhere. School, malls, sidewalks, movies, songs, books, television. You can censor and challenge the last four to your hearts content, but until you can censore real people, kids/teens are going to hear and use offensive language. Get over it. My French/English dictionaries in high school had a whole page to the translation of the word f*ck. None of us cared – it was just another word.

Unsuited to age group: I have nothing to say to this one. Pretty much covered this when I talked about Twilight.

Violence: Yes, The Chocolate War has violence in it. Realistic violence. What Jerry goes through in getting beat up and picked on by his peers…teens/kids go through that today. It’s called bullying, and it happens. Banning this book for violence in the form of bullying may take away something that could help a child going through bullying him/herself. Jerry is a strong character, and holds up against his tormenters.

Religious viewpoint: This book was written in 1974. Jerry goes to Catholic school. I’m not touching this one with a ten foot pole because I would inevitably upset someone. Again, we’re not told who’s objecting to what aspect of religious viewpoint so it’s hard to argue against. All I will say is that this book has good characters, and not so good characters. The only reason for this objection at all is because the story takes place in a Catholic school. If it was in a normal, modern high school there would be no religion in the book at all.

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