The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

This is the third book I read for the Semi-Charmed 2014 Winter Reading Challenge. I read it for the category “Read a book with a food in the title“, which is worth 10 points.

The plot:
Jerry Renault is a first year at Trinity High School, an exclusive, all-boys Catholic school. Each student at the school is “encouraged” to sell fifty boxes of chocolates at the annual chocolate sale. Although selling the chocolates is supposed to be voluntary, when Jerry refuses he soon finds out that it’s not, really. And so the bullying and coercion begins. When Jerry also runs up against the school’s group of thugs, a secret society, called “The Vigils” things start to get very ugly indeed…

My review:
I can’t really say I “enjoyed” this book, because the subject matter does not make for an enjoyable read! It does, however, make for a good one. This was one of those books that made me wish my commute was longer so I wouldn’t have to put it down – I then proceeded to read the rest in bed the following night, not stopping until it was done even though I was oh so tired. The story is told mostly from two perspectives, Jerry’s and that of Archie Costello, chief school bully and head of the secret society. I don’t always like stories that are told from multiple perspectives, but in this case it seemed to fit. The glimpses into the mind of Archie Costello were sometimes disturbing… in fact, a lot of the book was disturbing. I’m not going to claim this was an easy read! And I have no idea how I would have reacted to this as a teenager (especially as one who was generally ignored in school because almost nobody liked me). Also, there are some fairly explicit sexual references – although no actual sex. In fact, my one complaint about this book would be that it seems to imply that all teenage boys are obsessed with sex and view girls as sexual objects, not real people. Admittedly that’s probably true of a lot of boys, but is the stereotyping really necessary?! But as a book that deals with the corrupting influence of power, human cruelty and the results of peer pressure. The ending of the book was shocking but, unfortunately, somewhat realistic (I think a lot of teenagers have had the experience of bullies going unpunished – although this book exaggerates how far these things tend to go). Overall I thought this was a really good book and I would certainly recommend it. Although it was written in 1974, the themes it addresses are still relevant today. I want to give this one 4.5 stars, but I’ll be generous and round it up to 5.