How had I never read The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier before today? The Chocolate War is right up there with The Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies. We’re talking literary YA that’s both entertaining and deep.
The Chocolate War was published in 1974 and tells the story of a Catholic boy’s high school called Trinity where some very bad stuff happens. There’s a secret society of punks called The Vigils and the only person who can keep them in check is Brother Leon. Solidly in the running for “Worst Teacher Ever,” Brother Leon bullies the whole school into a chocolate selling fundraiser. If that sounds like a tame plot device to you, then your imagination needs to go in a more twisted direction. Out of all 400 boys, only one defies Brother Leon’s orders. Jerry Renault is part iconoclast, part football player, and part orphan. As a reader, you’re terrified Jerry will get his ass kicked.
Reading The Chocolate War in 2015 was surreal because times have changed so radically since the 1970s that it almost read like speculative fiction instead of realistic fiction. But no mater what year you read Cormier, the emotions he conveys are timeless. Thank God the past decades have done so much to protect students from bullies of all ages.