Heroes by Robert Cormier, 1998

"My name is Francis Joseph Cassavant and I have just returned to Frenchtown in Monument and the war is over and I have no face." (1)

Heroes.gifIn the story of Heroes, by Robert Cormier,Francis returns home from World War II at eighteen years of age horribly disfigured. His face was destroyed when he fell upon a grenade. However, this is not the focus of the story. In fact, Francis has an even darker past and at a young age discovered betrayal, heartache, and the subjectiveness of heroism.

Through a series of flashbacks, we learn about Francis' life before the war. We are introduced to a girl by the name of Nicole, Francis' one and only true love, and many other people from Frenchtown, his home town. Especially, we meet Larry LaSalle, a man everyone admired for his work with the town's youth and for receiving the Silver Star for bravery during the war. He was the town's hero. However, we also learn that Francis has come home not to resume his former life, but rather to seek revenge against Larry LaSalle. Why does Francis hate Larry? Larry was the leader at the Frenchtown Wreck Center where the town's kids gathered to play games and to dance.

*Spoiler Ahead* When Larry LaSalle took a liking to Francis and Nicole, he did everything he could to build their confidence, by teaching Nicole to be a better dancer on stage, and by encouraging Francis to play table tennis - a way to let him explore his keen skill with swift movements to be a competitive player. However, Larry's brief homecoming changes Francis' adulation and effectively ends both his and Nicole's childhood, "Closing my eyes, I think of Nicole and how his homecoming during the war changed our lives forever" (85). As we find out, Nicole was raped by the town hero, while Francis waited outside the room, hearing her struggle and frozen with shock.

Distraught with the hurt he knows Nicole suffered from, Francis seeks to end his own life. Unable to commit suicide, he instead enlists in hopes of dying on the battlefield. Unfortunately, instead of losing his life, Francis earns his own Silver Star in a heroic act by saving his comrades. Heroic that is, to everyone but Francis himself.

Now, returning from war with a Silver Star, and a face no one recognizes, Francis is in search of the man who destroyed his confidence, his dignity, and the innocence of the girl he loves. Finally facing Larry LaSalle once again, Francis must confront both of their demons and finish the task he has set for himself. "Sweet young things. Had he done it before? How many young girls had been invaded by him?" (115) In the confrontation, Larry asks a question that encapsulates the moral dilemma key to the novel - "'Does that one sin of mine wipe away all the good things?'" (115) The book at this point takes a twist. Larry has had the same thought of committing suicide as a punishment for his false heroism.

Francis searches for Nicole to apologize for his cowardliness, and to know that she has also forgiven the past and moved on. In the end, the book leaves the reader to ponder whether Francis takes Nicole's advice, and practices his writing, or if he gives up on life - "I think of the gun inside the duffel bag at my feet" (135). With this statement, Francis faces one more choice of whether to be at peace with himself or to give up. Throughout this book, the characters learn the consequences of their actions in many ways, and for Francis, he can only be at peace with himself as long as he is willing to forgive his past actions, and learn to move on.

Central to the novel is the idea of heroism. What is a hero? Do intentions make a hero, or just results? What is more important in a person's life - his or her good deeds or bad ones? Readers are encouraged to grapple with these questions while Francis does the same. In the end, Francis concludes, "I remember what I said to Nicole about not knowing who the real heroes are and I think of my old platoon... Scared kid, not born to fight and kill. Who were not only there but who stayed, did not run away, fought the good war. And never talk about it. And didn't receive a Silver Star. But heroes, anyway. The real heroes." (134)
Robert Cormier

Recommendations: Heroes is easy to read, but deals with mature issues. Probably best for 14 and up.

Robert Cormier (1925-2000) was a former journalist and author of many young adult novels, including The Chocolate War and I am the Cheese.

Helpful Links:
Teacher's Guide at Random House
Teacher's Resources
Interview with Robert Cormier
Another Interview with Robert Cormier