The Chocolate War
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|LC Class||PZ7.C81634 Ch|
|Followed by||Beyond the Chocolate War|
The Chocolate War is a young adult novel by American author Robert Cormier. First published in 1974, it was adapted into a film in 1988. Although it received mixed reviews at the time of its publication, some reviewers have argued it is one of the best young adult novels of all time. Set at a fictional Catholic high school, the story depicts a secret student organization's manipulation of the student body, which descends into cruel and ugly mob mentality against a lone, non-conforming student. Because of the novel's language, the concept of a high school secret society using intimidation to enforce the cultural norms of the school and various characters' sexual ponderings, it has been the frequent target of censors and appears as third on the American Library Association's list of the "Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books in 2000–2009." A sequel was published in 1985 called Beyond the Chocolate War.
Jerry Renault begins attending an all-boys Catholic high school called Trinity, while coping with depressive feelings and existential questions that stem largely from his mother's recent death and father's enduring grief. Jerry is quickly recruited onto Trinity's football team, where he meets "The Goober," a fellow freshman and instant friend. Meanwhile, Trinity's vice-principal, Brother Leon, has recently become acting headmaster and overextends his rising ambition by committing Trinity to selling double last year's amount of chocolates during an annual fundraising event, quietly enlisting the support of Archie Costello, the genesis and leader behind The Vigils: the school's cruelly manipulative secret society of student pranksters.
Archie arrogantly plans to alternate between betraying and supporting Leon in a frenzied series of power plays. His first "assignment" is to incite Jerry to refuse to sell any chocolate for ten days. However, Jerry, inspired after reading a quotation inside his locker: "Do I dare disturb the universe?" from T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," feels strangely determined to sell nothing even after the ten days have passed, thus estranging himself from both Leon and The Vigils.
At first, Jerry's refusal to cooperate with the corrupt school culture and fundraiser is seen by many classmates as heroic, but the gesture threatens Brother Leon and The Vigils' ability to coerce the student population. Leon presses Archie to put The Vigils' full force behind the chocolate sales and so they set up Jerry as an enemy for the rest of the student body to harass through bullying, prank calls, and vandalism. Only The Goober remains Jerry's friend but does little to protect him. Ultimately, Archie enlists the school bully Emile Janza to beat up Jerry just outside the school, but, even in the aftermath, Jerry maintains his defiant nonconformity.
Finally, Archie concocts a showdown: a boxing match at night between Jerry and Emile. On the football field, the match is watched by all students, who can select which blows will be laid during the fight through a randomized lottery system; however, the fight ends when a teacher shuts down the electrical power on the field, and Jerry is brutally injured in the ensuing darkness. Half-conscious, he tells The Goober that there was no way to win and he should have just complied, conceding that it is best, after all, not to "disturb the universe." Though Archie is apprehended as the mastermind of the fight, Brother Leon intervenes on his behalf and privately praises his efforts in the unprecedented success of the chocolate sales. Leon implies that next year, if he is officially made the new headmaster, he will work to preserve Archie's power.
The book was well received by critics. The New York Times wrote, "The Chocolate War is masterfully structured and rich in theme; the action is well crafted, well timed, suspenseful; complex ideas develop and unfold with clarity."
Children's Book Review Service said, "Robert Cormier has written a brilliant novel."
Cormier explained in an interview that he was "interested in creating real people, dramatic situations that will keep the reader turning pages." He went on to say that although some adults dislike the book because of the topics discussed, "the kids can absorb my kind of book because they know this kind of thing happens in life."
The New York Times Book Review declared, "Mr. Cormier is almost unique in his powerful integration of the personal, political and moral" and The Australian wrote that young readers "recognised his vision as authentic and admired his willingness to tell things as they are". However, the book has been banned from many schools and it is one of the most challenged books, of 2006, for its sexual content, strong language, and violence.
1974 School Library Journal Best Books of the Year
1974 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
1974 ALA the Best of the Best Books for Young Adults
1974 New York Times Notable Books of the Year 
- The Best Young Adult Novels of All Time, or The Chocolate War One More Time Ted Hipple and Jennifer L. Claiborne, English Journal, high school edition, January 2005
- New York Times Book Review
- Rosenberg, Merri (May 5, 1985). "Children's Books; Teen-Agers Face Evil". New York Times Book Review. p. 36. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
- Rochman, Hazel (May 5, 1985). "No Headline". New York Times Book Review. p. 37. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
- "Provocateur of Young Minds – Time & Tide". The Australian. December 6, 2000. Retrieved March 12, 2011.
- "The Most-Challenged Books of 2006". The Kansas City Star, The (MO). October 4, 2007. Retrieved March 12, 2011.