The Rag and Bone Shop

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The Rag and Bone Shop
Author Robert Cormier
Cover artist Victor Stabin
Country United States
Language English
Genre young adult fiction
Publisher Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication date
October 9, 2001
Pages 154
ISBN 978-0-385-72962-8 (hardcover) 978-0440229711 (paper back)
OCLC 46671136
LC Class PZ7.C81634 Rag 2001

The Rag and Bone Shop (2001) is a book written by Robert Cormier. The book was published posthumously in 2001; Cormier died in 2000. The novel takes its name from the final line of William Butler Yeats's poem "The Circus Animals' Desertion".[1]

Plot summary[edit]

The story is of the brutal murder of a seven-year-old girl named Alicia Bartlett and the interrogation of a twelve-year-old boy, named Jason Dorrant, who is her friend and the last known person to see her alive. Trent, an expert interrogator, known to get confessions which seemed impossible to obtain and has never lost a case, is called in for the case. Trent does this interrogation in order to be in good graces with a senator of Massachusetts. Jason Dorrant is an average 12 year old boy. He was a lonely kid with few and/or no friends at all. Except maybe Alicia, whom he finds to be one of the most fascinating people. She's like a little old lady, he said. After her death Trent brings in Jason as his main suspect. Trent has never failed to get a confession from someone, and a lot is riding on this particular case for Trent to succeed. Jason is brought into a small white-walled room with no ventilation, a single bulb dangling from the ceiling, (page 28) and Trent begins this interrogation. Jason is an innocent boy who was told that the information he is providing is voluntary and has no idea about being a suspect in any way. Trent takes the information Jason gives him and twists it into a distorted story that makes Jason look absolutely credible for Alicia's death. At one point Trent makes Jason look like a violent maniac simply because he reads and watches science fiction. (page 32) By the end of the novel Jason believes he is a blood-thirsty killer, thanks to Trent's distortion, and confesses to a crime he did not commit. Trent, with the confession tape in hand, walks towards a woman expecting to be praised for his handiwork, but she looks at Trent accusingly. She explains to him that Alicia's older brother was taken in for the murder and that there were witnesses. Alicia's brother was the killer, not Jason. She accuses him of making Jason confess. Trent was demoted and never worked as an interrogator again. Sadly, he left Jason fighting himself. Jason can't decide if he is what he knows himself to be or if he is what he was told he was. (Quote: " Did he kill her? No. Could he have killed her? No, but could he kill someone worthy of death? Say, a bully?") In a final twist of irony, Jason fulfills the role that Trent gave him, grabbing a butcher knife and heading to the nearest YMCA where bully Bobo Kelton is.

Major themes[edit]

Guilt is used throughout the book, particularly in the ending. When Trent at last extracts a confession out of Jason, he then learns that the real killer has been found. Not only has his salvation become his downfall, the interrogation also causes Jason to question whether or not he actually can commit a murder. After all, he's already been accused of such...

The novel ends with the frighteningly ironic scene of Jason toying with the idea of murder. The idea behind the story is the corruption of innocence. Jason was a normal, peaceful boy and only considered murder after being accused and painted as a murderer. Whether or not Jason actually followed through with the murder is not apparent.

Another theme is found in the repeated phrase, "You are what you do." It is implied that Trent's wife often said this to Trent. Trent's negative influence on Jason resonates through the book's ending. Jason becomes exactly what Trent convinces him that he is..


  1. ^ William Butler Yeats. "Poetry, Drama, and Prose". Ed. Patricia Pethica. p.128