Banned Book Week: The Chocolate War

Monday, September 26, 2011

(My satchel with my "I read banned books" pin)

It's Banned Book Week and in honor of that I've reviewed a banned book I recently read and I've listed a few of my favorite banned books that I've read in the past. As my favorite button (above) on my satchel says “I read banned books.” There’s something disturbing about a society that tries to control what people read, so of course, my first instinct is to go read it.

My top ten favorite Banned Books:

1) The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
2) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
3) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
4) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
5) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
6) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
7) Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
8) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
9) Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
10) All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

Favorites when I was a kid:

1) A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle
2) James and the Giant Peach - Roald Dahl
3) The Giver, by Lois Lowry
4) Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
5) The Wish Giver by Bill Brittain

The Chocolate War
by Robert Cormier

This young adult book is frequently cited on banned book lists and honestly, that was the main reason I read it.
Oddly, there’s very little in this book that I can point to as a possible reason to ban it. There’s very little language, there’s some violence and the main characters are teenage boys, so there are a few sexual thoughts, but very little in the grand scheme of banned books. Regardless, this one won’t be on any favorites lists of mine.

Jerry Renault is a freshman at a private high school run by Catholic priests. One of the teachers, Brother Leon, is a power-hungry, ruthless man and he decides he’s going to make the students sell double the number of boxed chocolates than they have in previous years in order to make himself look good.

The Vigils are a secret society within the school. A meathead jock is the front man, but the true leader of the group is Archie. He is the brains of the operation and he develops the random tasks that the group forces the students to do. Things get out of hand when the Vigils decide to make Jerry refuse to sell the chocolates for 10 days.

The thing that is starling about this book is the vindictive, cruel nature of the Vigils, especially the calculating character of Archie. It was strange to me because it seemed like they had no real motivation for their actions. It’s not just physical brutality, it’s the psychological and emotional strain they put on their fellow students.

The boys’ savagery is similar to that of the characters in Lord of the Flies, but because their circumstances are not extreme, it’s even worse. It’s almost understandable in wild jungles of Lord of the Flies, because the boys are reduced to their basic natures to survive. In The Chocolate Wars, they are living in a civilized world and every decision they make is thought out and intentional, which makes it even crueler.

In the end I didn’t even feel like rooting for the main character, Jerry, because it all seemed so silly and pointless. I was glad he was standing up for himself, but at the same time, it seemed stupid that he should have to fight against something so ridiculous.

For another view, check out the great review at Your Move, Dickens.

*Photo by moi


nomadreader said...

I remember absolutely hating this book when I read it in school. I won't be encouraged to give it a try again, but it is nice to get another perspective and help me remember what was so wrong about it!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

nomadreader - Yes, I think it's good to check it out if it sounds interesting, but it didn't work for me.

B said...

I loved James and the Giant Peach when I Was a kid too. Really anything by Roald Dahl, but James was always my favorite.

Of your adult favorites, it sounds like I need to read Cuckoo's Nest and Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Brenna - Dahl is one of my all-time favorites. You should check out his adult stories if you haven't already. They are wonderfully dark and creepy.

Kristi said...

I've read ten of your fifteen favorites. I'll have to add the others to my TBR list since we seem to have similar taste in books.

I love the button! I'm pretty sensitive about what I read, but I hate the idea that someone else should try to control what can and can't be read. We should be entitled to make those decisions for ourselves. I'm like you. If I'm told not to do something, I'm much more likely to do it. :)

Jenners said...

Well, I never read this one but I've read a lot of the others … and I'm planning on reading The Giver this week, though I doubt I'll get my review done in time.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Kristi - That's exactly it. We don't have to read everything, but we should get to decide whether or not we want to read it. Otherwise it's a slippery slope.

Jenners - I can't wait to hear what you think of The Giver!