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
Media type Print
Pages 154
ISBN 978-0-385-72962-8 (hardcover) 978-0440229711 (paper back)
OCLC 46671136
LC Class PZ7.C81634 Rag 2001
Reading age: 9-12 years

The Rag and Bone Shop (2001) is Robert Cormier's final novel, published October 9, 2001, eleven months after his death. The novel takes its name from the final line of William Butler Yeats's poem "The Circus Animals' Desertion".[1]


Jason Dorrant is a lonely seventeen-year-old boy who is a suspect in the brutal murder of Alicia Bartlett, his friend about the same age. Trent, an expert interrogator who is known to get confessions that seem impossible to obtain and who has never lost a case, is called in to interrogate Jason, who is Alicia's friend and the last known person to see her alive. Trent performs the interrogation to win favor with a senator of Massachusetts.

Jason has few friends except Alicia, whom he finds fascinating. He says that she is like a little old lady. Jason was the last person to see Alicia alive and is the prime suspect, although he doesn't know it – Trent tells Jason that the information he is providing is voluntary.

Trent interrogates Jason in a small white-walled room with no ventilation and a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling, and he twists the information that Jason gives him into a distorted story that makes Jason look guilty of Alicia's murder. Trent makes Jason look like a violent maniac simply because he reads and watches science fiction, and Jason believes Trent's fabrication that he is a blood-thirsty killer so strongly that he confesses to the crime.

Trent, with the confession tape in hand, walks towards a woman expecting to be praised for his handiwork, but she looks at Trent accusingly and explains that Alicia's older brother was the killer, not Jason; there were witnesses, and he has been taken into custody. The woman accuses Trent of coercing Jason's confession. Trent is demoted and will never work as an interrogator again.

Jason is left fighting with himself. He cannot decide which image of himself is true: what he thought he was before the interrogation, or what he was told he was: a killer. He ponders, "Did he kill her? No. Could he have killed her? No, but could he kill someone worthy of death? Say, a bully?" In the final twist, Jason fulfills the role that Trent assigned him, grabbing a butcher knife and heading to the nearest YMCA, where bully Bobo Kelton is.


Guilt is used throughout the book, particularly in the ending. When Trent at last extracts a confession out of Jason, he learns that the real killer has been found. Not only his salvation has become his downfall by also the interrogation also causes Jason to question whether or not he actually can commit a murder. After all, he has 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 did not consider murder until he was 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 when Jason becomes exactly what Trent convinces him that he is.


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