Cormier, R. (1974). The chocolate war: a novel. New York: Pantheon Books.
The Chocolate War appears on the 100 Most Challenged Books List.
Jerry Renault is a freshman at Trinity, a private Catholic school. All he wants to do is go to school, play football, and recover from the death of his mother. Unfortunately, Jerry comes in contact with a secret society of students known as The Vigils. The Vigils give Jerry the assignment to refuse to sell chocolates for the first ten days of the school's annual chocolate sale, which causes him to become an enemy of Brother Leon, the temporary headmaster of the school. However, when Jerry's time is up, he decides he wants to be his own person and still refuses to join the chocolate sale, which causes him to also become an enemy of The Vigils, who have taken on the chocolate sale as a way to get in good with Brother Leon. Jerry's attempt to break with conformity at first makes him a hero, but eventually turns him into an outcast that pays for trying to be different.
I enjoyed reading The Chocolate War, but I can easily see why it is one of the most challenged books. The story shows just how cruel and how much of a bully teenage boys can be. Much of the story is very dark and almost painful to observe. The confrontation at the end of the story between Jerry and his tormentors (Archie, the Vigils, etc.) is especially violent and disturbing. Also, though Archie (the true leader of the Vigils), is really the villain of the book, Brother Leon was a more chilling figure. As an adult, he should be above this type of behavior, but he is just as cruel as the boys he teaches. He revels in humiliating his students, and he is a very creepy character. Throughout the novel, I kept hoping that Archie and Brother Leon would pay for the way they ran the school. I kept hoping that Jerry would teach them both a lesson. My biggest disappointment was that this did not happen. The story ends with Jerry utterly defeated and terribly injured. It leaves the reader wondering if it is really better to try to break the molds of conformity to be one's own person, or if it is safer just to follow along and not step out of line. It is a choice everyone must make, but I think the lesson to remember is that when there is too much conformity, it can lead to mass violence, as it did in The Chocolate War.